Agenda item

Update on Boundary Commission Parliamentary Constituency Review

To receive an update on the Parliamentary Constituency Review and the Elections Act 2022.

Decision:

The Elections Manager, Steven Lake, introduced the report and presented a slideshow to update the Committee on the Final Recommendations that formed part of the Final Report of the 2023 Review of Parliamentary Constituency Boundaries in England and also an update on the impact of Voter Identification at the recent elections that formed part of the amendments brought in by the Elections Act 2022.

 

The Constitution and Governance Committee requested the presentation be made available on the Council website and noted the presentation and report.

 

 

Minutes:

The Chair of the Constitution and Governance Committee, Cllr Ross Henley, invited Elections Manager, Steven Lake to present the update on the Boundary Commission Parliamentary Constituency Review and Electoral Changes.

 

Parliamentary Constituency Boundaries Review

The Elections Manager, Steven Lake, presented the report, with the aid of a PowerPoint presentation, highlighting:  the final report recommendations of the 2023 Boundary Review of Parliamentary Constituencies in Somerset; summarised the process of Government approval and implementation of the recommendations; that the new parliamentary boundaries are expected to come into effect 1 October 2023; that the new constituencies will be used at the next General Election and that any By-Election in the meantime will continue to use the existing constituency.

 

The Monitoring Officer, David Clark, further added to the above points that there are seven parliamentary constituencies within Somerset boundaries, with three Cross-County boundary constituencies established following the boundary review; North Somerset, Mid Devon and Bath & Northeast Somerset. Additionally, the Monitoring Officer, informed Members that as a result of the majority of population of those constituencies sitting within Somerset, the Returning Officer function for the three Cross-County boundary constituencies would sit with Somerset Council.

 

The Chair of the Constitution and Governance Committee, Cllr Ross Henley, invited comments from other Members present, questions and points raised included:

      The introduction of more Cross-County Boundary constituencies, both

         locally and nationally, following changes to the Boundary Commission

         restrictions.

      The Government funding for Local Authorities to facilitate a General

         Election, including the cost of the Election set by Parliament, the

         funding provision and claim process, the financial and resources

         impact on the Council to process and claim back costs / funding,

         comparable money spent and received through the claim process.

 

Elections Act 2022

 

Voter ID requirement

The Elections Manager, Steven Lake, presented the report with the aid of a PowerPoint presentation, highlighting: that as part of the Elections Act 2022, voters are now required to show photo identification to vote in polling stations; that the first Elections requiring voter ID had taken place on 4 May 2023; summarised the statistics collated in Somerset; Taunton Town Council Election and Somerton and Frome Parliamentary By-Election, including the number of eligible electors, number of votes cast and number of electors that did not have the opportunity to vote due unacceptable voter ID or chose not to vote due to opposing the use of voter ID; that Elections had taken place in 230 areas in England and around 27 million people had been eligible to vote; summarised the Electoral Commission interim analysis of the voter ID at the May 2023 Local Elections in England, including the number of people that were aware of the use of photo ID, the application for and use of the voter authority certificate and the number of non-voters because of the voter ID requirement, the number of people not issued with a ballot paper and the number of people returning and able to vote after later presenting voter ID; local and national statistics comparisons.

 

The Chair of the Constitution and Governance Committee, Cllr Ross Henley, invited comments from other Members present, questions and points raised included:

 

     The figure of 4% of all non-voters that did not vote because of the

        voter ID requirement, and the potential negative impact of voter ID

        requirement, including; the potential impact whereby the non-voter

        numbers turned away from a polling station outstrips the majority of

        the winning party in the General Election; what impact the Voter ID

        system had on individuals choosing not to vote that would normally

        have voted, i.e. decrease in voting numbers, people that didn’t vote

        because they didn’t know the new rules, people choosing not to vote

        through objections to using voter ID, digital exclusion.

The Elections Manager, Steven Lake added that there were no known figures of how many people did not vote from not knowing rules, as no-one presented themselves at polling stations

     The possibility that voters with no voter ID could be turned away at the polling station door and not formally recorded.

The Elections Manager, Steven Lake, confirmed that no member of Election staff had been placed outside polling stations to turn people away with no Voter ID.

The Vice-Chairman, Cllr Tim Kerley, emphasised the teller’s operation and responsibility to follow and reinforce Council guidance to ensure Voters with no ID be formally recorded.

      Whether any potential voter fraud had been reported in Somerset.

The Elections Manager, Steven Lake, confirmed that no known voter fraud, previous to the 4 May 2023 Elections, had been reported in Somerset.

      The paper and electronic process of obtaining voter ID.

      The pressure, challenge and capacity of the Council to deal with

         queries, management of and issuing of the new voter ID for a

         General Election across the whole of Somerset, and what voter ID

         awareness and promotion is planned for the next General Election.

The Elections Manager, Steven Lake, advised of the application and issuing process of the voter authority certificate and the workplan to prepare, promote and make people aware of voter ID requirement for the next General Election including, the preparation for the upcoming Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) election in 2024, a household information letter to check residents and register to include a reminder of the requirement of voter ID, and the that voter ID requirement is on every poll card.

·       The comparable voter turnout for the By-Election at Somerton and Frome 44.2% with other By-Elections on the same day,  Selby - 44.8% Uxbridge and South Ruislip - 46.2% and the Tiverton and Honiton parliamentary By-Election of June 2022 before the new legislation was enacted,  similar seat and time of year, close geographically, small towns, rural areas, with a turnout of 52%, so 8% drop.

  • The sharing of Polling station statistics with the Government and information reported to the Electoral Commission by Elections Managers
  • The limited data statistic gathering i.e. generational differences in the take up and the acceptance of the voter ID requirement.

 

Elections Act 2022 – Absent Voters

The Elections Manager, Steven Lake, presented the report, with the aid of a PowerPoint presentation, highlighting: that Draft Regulations relating to changes in postal voting differ from the initial plans for the transitional arrangements for postal voters; that the change means postal voters who had to reapply for their postal vote by 31 January 2024 and 31 January 2025 are no longer required to; that all existing postal voters who provided a signature prior to 31 October 2023 will be required to reapply for their postal vote by 31 January 2026; the Electoral Registration Office (ERO) postal vote process will create a peak in 2026 and subsequently every three years; that a new digital service for applications for an absent vote will launch on Tuesday 31 October 2023; the ERO Portal development to process applications for absent votes can now be made both online and on paper.

 

The Chair of the Constitution and Governance Committee, Cllr Ross Henley, invited comments from other Members present, questions and points raised included:

  • The reason / cause of change in signature i.e. maturing, illness.
  • The effect and impact on Council resources, following the changes, specifically the demand on officer time to meet the objectives of a much larger organisation, the potential for people to lose the ability to vote through not knowing about renewing changes.

The Elections Manager, Steven Lake, explained the application process and workplan, including writing to all affected.

  • The options available for those people that do not have direct access to Internet

The Election Manager, Steven Lake, advised that the paper application to remain available.

  • Signature images / photographs and the potential risk of fraud and the security of data.
  • The potential for an increase in applications in postal votes due to voter ID requirement.

 

The Constitution and Governance Committee requested the presentation be made available on the Council website and noted the presentation and report.

Supporting documents: