Democracy: The Government’s Dangerous Elections Bill Just Got Worse

27 October 2021 — True Publica

Democracy: The Government’s Dangerous Elections Bill Just Got Worse

By Josiah Mortimer: Proposals sneaked out during the reshuffle last month represent a big step backwards for voter choice and democracy in England and Wales.

The plans, revealed exclusively in the PM’s former employer, the Telegraph, would see the current preference-based Supplementary Vote method used to elect Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners removed and First Past the Post imposed.

Scared to face scrutiny?

As well as being announced during a reshuffle, there has been a serious lack of the normal pre-legislative scrutiny. Rather than forming part of the bill that was debated in the House of Commons during its first and second reading, the plans have been sneaked into the Elections Bill at Committee Stage.

These proposals are a regressive move that, far from improving accountability, will damage accountability and undermine the legitimacy of those elected.

As well as being announced during a reshuffle, there has been a serious lack of the normal pre-legislative scrutiny

Under the current system, if no candidate gets over 50% of first preferences, the top two candidates continue to a run-off round and all other candidates are eliminated. The second preferences of the eliminated candidates are counted and the run-off candidate with the
most votes at this stage is declared the winner.

Less accountability, less legitimacy

The system prevents widely unpopular or extreme candidates from slipping in on a fraction of the vote, despite being opposed by the majority.

First Past the Post has seen MPs elected on levels of support as low as 25%. Lowering the bar for winning does nothing to improve the legitimacy of the eventual winner or democracy.

Introducing tactical voting and electoral pacts into these elections, as first past the post can’t handle too much choice for voters, does nothing to make it easier to remove unpopular candidates. Voters and parties shouldn’t have to try and find workarounds to get their voice heard.

“The government’s elections bill are less about improving our democracy than they are an attack on voters ability to cast their ballot and have their voice count”

Elections aren’t competitions to find out who has the best campaign tricks up their sleeves, they are a way to find the best person to represent the interests of voters.

This latest announcement confirms what we’ve long known – the government’s elections bill proposals are less about improving our democracy than they are an attack on voters ability to cast their ballot and have their voice count.

Offering voters a second preference using the Supplementary Vote ensures those in significant positions of power command the support of a broad backing of voters rather than scraping in on low levels of support. This is vital for officials with large budgets and wide-ranging powers that include policing and crime.

Let’s be clear what this change would do – it would force millions to vote tactically, ban you from expressing a second preference, and let unpopular candidates sneak into powerful regional roles.

Josiah Mortimer is Head of Communications at the Electoral Reform Society

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