In 2022, Fair Vote UK facilitated a coalition of more than 60 organisations and academics to oppose the governments Elections Bill. While the bill ultimately passed in Parliament by the hands of an 80-seat government majority, a new federation of democracy-loving organisations emerged in opposition. Now passed into law as the Elections Act, the bill’s damage is becoming undeniable. We’re continuing to work with partners to undo the consequences of this draconian legislation.
While this bill was branded by the government as a package of electoral reform measures, the consensus among experts was that it was highly regressive and deeply threatening to the operational effectiveness of the country’s democratic institutions. The Elections Bill was not about revitalising democracy and updating archaic institutions: it was about power, control, and crushing dissent.
With the notable exception of the digital imprints regime, measures on undue influence, and poll accessibility measures, most of the provisions in the bill were unnecessary and illiberal. Some parts were downright authoritarian. Here’s a quick overview of what was in the Elections Bill and why we opposed it:
- Voter Identification: A highly expensive distraction from the real issues facing democracy, Voter ID will exclude a large number of people from voting. Election fraud is a practically non-existent problem in the UK, and the government specifically targeted certain groups with the kinds of ID they permit and deny. In a country without national ID cards, Voter ID is inherently exclusive and marginalising. The government has given councils almost no time to implement the policy, making chaos and huge queues at the polls all the more likely.
- Electoral Commission: The Elections Act took away the Electoral Commission’s (already limited) power to prosecute, and made their work subject to oversight by a Parliamentary committee. At the time of the bill’s passing, this committee was dominated by a government majority – and this can easily happen again. These measures were particularly worrying, as the Commission is a vital elections watchdog in the UK.
- Postal and Proxy Voting: The Act makes it harder to vote by mail or by proxy, extending the bureaucracy required to apply. It’s a response to what the government calls “postal vote harvesting” a phenomenon that, as far as we’ve been able to tell, does not actually exist.
- Third-party Campaigning: The Act made it more difficult for third party campaigners, such as charities and unions, to engage in political activism by raising administrative barriers and imposing legal risks.
We’re advocating for a wholesale repeal of this bill from the next Parliament. There are so many ways we can improve how democracy works in the UK, and this bill has nothing to offer in that regard – it’s simply looking for problems that don’t exist. In the meantime, we’ll be working with partner organisations to highlight the disastrous fallout of the Voter ID rollout and the incursion on the Electoral Commission.