Moves to rationalise the 25 separate pieces of legislation that govern national elections received the support of the electoral watchdog today.
A report ‘Reflections on a new structure for the United Kingdom’s electoral law’, published by the Electoral Commission, argues that the ‘voluminous, complex and fragmented’ legislation governing elections is in urgent need of fundamental reform.
The author, Professor RA ‘Bob’ Watt of the University of Buckingham, says that rationalisation will strengthen democracy and make it easier for candidates to discover what activities are permitted. At present, anyone looking for a single comprehensive list of permitted activities ‘would be disappointed’, he says.
According to Watt, the May 2010 election was governed by 25 pieces of legislation, and that poll would have been ‘vastly more complicated’ had other elections, such as for police and crime commissioners, also taken place the same day.
‘Given that electoral law materials have a very wide audience it is clear that material should be presented in an accessible way.’ He contrasts the accessibility of UK law with that of the Swedish Elections Act of 2005.
A formal consultation on reform by the UK’s three Law Commissions is expected to open next year.
Electoral commissioner David Howarth said: ‘Many of the present problems with our electoral law result from a structure that unnecessarily complicates the democratic process. Reforming the organisation of our electoral law is of fundamental importance.’
However he conceded that rationalisation will be a ‘challenging’ task.