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Voters ‘have no idea what police commissioners stand for’, warns Electoral Commission

Voters ‘have no idea what police commissioners stand for’, warns Electoral Commission

🕔09.Sep 2016

Most people who took part in this year’s elections for Police and Crime Commissioners had no idea of the role of PCCs or what the candidates contesting the elections stood for, a new study has found.

Across all areas holding PCC elections in England and Wales, fewer than three in ten respondents said they knew either a great deal or a fair amount about the PCC elections, and almost three-quarters said they did not know very much or nothing at all.

The survey by the Electoral Commission found that the single largest complaint from members of the public was a lack of information about the candidates.

The commission has repeated a previous suggestion that the Government should legislate to allow a candidate information booklet to be sent to all households in each police force area ahead of the PCC elections – as already happens at elections for city and metro mayors.

The study also warned of even further confusion in 2020 when PCC elections are due to be held on the same day as the General Election, local council elections, Welsh Assembly elections, and elections for city and metro mayors.

Electoral Commission director Andrew Scallan said voters would be faced with an “unprecedented” number of ballot papers at polling stations, and be expected to cope with several different voting systems.

The commission is recommending that the Government should immediately begin consultation on the risks of holding several polls on the same day, including giving consideration to the potential for changing the date of elections.

Mr Scallan said that any decision to change the date of the elections would have to be informed by appropriate consultation between the Electoral Commission, relevant Government departments, elected bodies, and political parties to ensure that the interests of voters are put first.

Mr Scallan added:

Voters have consistently told us that they do not have the information they need ahead of these elections to make an informed decision about who to vote for. This is a fundamental problem that needs to be addressed, which is why we continue to recommend that provision is made for candidate information to be sent to every household as happens at elections for local authority executive mayors.

The survey found that almost twice as many people said it was difficult to access information on the PCC candidates compared with local election candidates.

Candidates themselves were also overwhelmingly negative about the Government’s arrangements for communicating the views of candidates to voters, with 96 per cent of those who responded to the survey saying that they were dissatisfied with the arrangements.

Recommendations from the Electoral Commission survey include:

  • The Government must ensure that voters receive a candidate information booklet ahead of future PCC elections.
  • The Government should change the way instructions appear on the ballotpaper for PCC elections to reduce confusion for voters.
  • Any amendments to the legislation for running the next PCC elections should be made by no later than November 2019 and the Government should make clear how it will ensure that electors have appropriate access to information about PCC candidates.
  • The complexity of the combined polls that are currently scheduled for 2020 should be considered carefully by the UK Government, including whether the polls should be moved to different dates.

Almost 33.7 million people were registered to vote in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections on 5 May 2016: 31.4 million in England and 2.25 million in Wales.

Overall turnout at the elections was 27.3 per cent. Turnout at the 2012 PCC elections was 15.1 per cent.

The full report is available here.

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