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NEW LAW TO PROMOTE ACCESS TO AND CONFIDENCE IN THE VOTING SYSTEM

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New legislation to make the voting system more accessible, secure and efficient and to maximise participation in el...
New legislation to make the voting system more accessible, secure and efficient and to maximise participation in elections has been given Royal Assent, the Department for Constitutional Affairs announced.

The Electoral Administration Act 2006 aims to tackle three key areas at the core of a healthy democracy by:

* Improving access and engagement

* Improving confidence

* Maintaining professional delivery of elections

Democracy minister Bridget Prentice said:

'Elections are at the heart of our democratic process. Everyone who is eligible and registered has the right to vote so it's important that they can and do so. The Electoral Administration Act will help do this by promoting better and equal access to elections for all.

'Democracy is not only about having the choice to vote but also having confidence in the integrity of the system. The Act will improve security and introduce deterrents against fraud so that people have confidence that their vote will be cast and counted fairly.

'The Act introduces a number of measures to simplify electoral law and improve the way that elections are conducted.'

Key measures in the Act include:

Improving Access and Engagement

* Extends the last date someone can register after an election has been called (11 days before polling day).

* Reduces the age required for a candidate to stand at an election from 21 to 18.

* Establishes a framework for administrators to review polling stations regularly to ensure that they give people proper access.

* Improves information available to voters by enabling administrators to provide guidance in a variety of languages and formats.

* Abolishes the common law rule which prevented certain people with mental impairments from voting, in order to ensure that they are not prevented from participating in the electoral process.

* Allows for the extension of service voter declarations up to five years and for the Ministry of Defence to maintain a record of registration options of service personnel.

Improving Confidence

* Creates two new elections offences in order to provide stronger deterrents against electoral fraud. This includes supplying false information or failing to supply information to the electoral registration officer at any time.

* Provides for signatures and dates of births to be provided on postal vote applications and postal vote statements.

* Revises the offence of undue influence, enabling the offence to be effective even where influence has not led to any action being taken.

* Allows accredited observers into polling stations to observe the electoral process, and at other parts of the process, such as the count.

* Requires voters to sign for their ballot paper at the polling station to deter fraud.

* Introduces a new regime for regulation of loans to political parties based on the existing donations rules.

* Establishes performance standards to promote best practice in the administration of elections.

Electoral Commission chairman Sam Younger said:

'The Electoral Administration Act is an important piece of legislation that will improve the way elections are run. We are pleased that the Act includes many of the Electoral Commission's recommendations including measures to improve the security of postal voting and to ensure that loans to political parties are reported to the commission on the same basis as donations.

'Although people will now have to provide a signature and date of birth for postal voting, the commission's view is that full individual voter registration is vital to ensure the integrity of our electoral process and we are disappointed that the Act does not provide for this. However, the government has now accepted the case for individual registration in principle and we will continue to press for this change.'

Notes

1. The Electoral Administration Bill was introduced in Parliament in October 2005 and became an Act in July 2006.

2. For full details of the effects of the Electoral Administration Act click here.

3. The Electoral Commission is an independent body that aims to promote integrity, involvement and effectiveness. Its website is at http:www.electoralcommission.org.uk

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