Encouraging voter participation at local elections
Objective: To consider how the council seeks to improve participation in local elections, and what else can it do in the future.
Kim Smith (Electoral Services Manager)
The Electoral Services Manager ran through her report, which set out all the steps taken by her team to ensure that the electoral register was as up-to-date as possible and included all eligible voters, as well as figures showing election turn-out for the last ten years. The Executive Director Finance and Assets, speaking as CBC’s Returning Officer, pointed out that the Council motion agreed by Members asked the council to investigate ways to encourage voter participation in local elections; the statistics speak for themselves, with 100% names registered in some areas, and it is down to the candidates to get people out to vote – only they can increase voter participation.
In response to Members’ questions, the officer confirmed that:
- regarding the photo ID scheme to be introduced in 2023, there will be national campaigns, starting later this year, to ensure that people are made aware of the need for photo ID. Voters who do not have the required forms of ID will be able to apply online for a voter ID card. Forms can be sent to voters, who will be able to apply on line, but they will also need to be able to apply in person at the council offices;
- postal voters currently need to refresh their signature every five years;
- for clarification, canvassers visit households up to three times to gather up household information about who is living there, and up to two times to encourage or help potential voters to complete their registration forms;
- the council can use CBH data to help identify potential voters because CBH is an arm’s length organisation; data for other social landlords, such as Bromford, can’t be accessed in this way, although council tax records can be used;
- the HMO register is used when sending out canvassing forms, and if the canvasser struggles to get information, individual landlords are contacted;
- the elections office works with the university to ensure students in halls of residence can register, including information on the university intranet and emails to students encouraging them to look out for their registration forms in the post;
- ID cards will initially be government-funded, though whether this will remain the case indefinitely is not known.
On request, the Chair invited the Cabinet Member Regulatory Services to speak. He thanked the elections team for their hard work, saying that we shouldn’t take voting for granted. The statistics showed the clear correlation between deprivation and voter turn-out, and this needed to be addressed on a bigger scale. There were a number of solutions, including elections held over several days, as in India, elections at weekends, as in Europe, and proportional representation. He wondered if these can be contemplated in legislation. He agreed that voter ID would cause issues and make matters worse for low income, marginalised groups, and would also cost millions – and that there was no need for it. He wondered how many allegations of fraud in local elections there were on record, and whether the new system would be tracked at local level. More radical and inclusive measures were needed to make elections freer and fairer.
The Electoral Services Manager confirmed that any changes to the voting system would have to come through Parliament. She said that she had no knowledge of any fraud allegations at any of Cheltenham’s elections, only in very rare circumstances an administrative error. She also confirmed that the ID system would allow tracking, to show how many people voted and how many people were turned away without any ID.
A Member asked how voter ID would prevent students from voting twice, in their home town and university town. The Electoral Services Manager confirmed that they are permitted to vote in both for local elections, but have to opt for one or the other in national elections. She confirmed that landlords and HMOs are obliged by law to provide information i.e. the names of everyone living at a particular address, and it is then down to the elections office to contact the individuals and make them aware of their requirement to complete an individual voter registration form and voting options.
The Chair thanked officers and Members for their contributions, adding that if Members wanted further debate on this issue, they could submit a motion to Council.
- 2022_02_28_O&S_encouraging participation_discussion paper, item 7. PDF 365 KB
- 2022_02_28_O&S_encouraging participation_appendix 1_voter turnout, item 7. PDF 257 KB