The Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA) has expressed concern that “our already straining democratic systems are close to becoming undeliverable”.
In a letter to Kemi Badenoch, Minister for Levelling Up Communities, AEA chief executive Peter Stanyon said: “The Elections Act alone introduces momentous change, and therefore risk, we must all carefully manage. But the Elections Act is just part of a complicated jigsaw. There are many other issues at play.”
Mr Stanyon warned that current projected implementation timelines for the reforms being brought in through the Elections Act 2022, which received Royal Assent last month, were “optimistic at best, undeliverable at worst”.
Fundamental policy decisions were still to come, he said. “Until they do, secondary legislation continues to be delayed. This is significantly affecting implementation planning, including sharing with the electoral community how key processes will be delivered.”
The letter said the timelines gave little time for the Electoral Commission to draft guidance for Electoral Registration Officers, Returning Officers, candidates, and agents. It also warned that a range of new electoral process forms needed to be designed, while significant changes were also needed “to a myriad of existing forms”.
Mr Stanyon added that there were still significant issues around digital developments intended to support participation, including the proposed ERO portal, voter card and online absent voting websites.
The AEA chief executive also highlighted other challenges facing the electoral community, including:
- With the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions due to report by July 2023, there was significant work ahead to implement proposed changes.
- Further demand in those areas affected by local government reviews and reorganisation. “This will obviously increase if provisions in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill are enacted.”
- The potential – with the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022 – for ‘snap’ general elections being reintroduced “to a significantly more administratively complicated electoral system”.
- The loss of experienced electoral administrators from local authorities.
- The challenge in identifying and procuring suitable premises for polling stations and counts.
- Additional burdens created by the proposed referendums on street naming and ‘street votes’ on home extensions, which threatened to have a direct impact on electoral services teams. “Adding these to Business Improvement District ballots and Neighbourhood Planning Referendums will increase the potential number and frequency of small polls.”
The Association of Democratic Services Officers (ADSO) said it fully supported and endorsed the letter. ADSO said: “We have many members who undertake election duties and hear first hand the stresses and strains of the whole election process. It is the dedication and professionalism of all who work in the elections sector that hold everything together.”