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Metro-mayor elections show voters need better information

Tom Hawthorn
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In May this year the first combined authority mayoral elections took place in six areas of England. Six months on, what lessons can we learn for the future?

Each year we ask people what they think about elections. More than four in five people in areas with mayoral polls said they were confident they were well run. The work of the combined authority returning officers and their teams to deliver well-run elections cannot be underestimated. With decreasing resources and skilled professionals leaving local authority electoral services teams, this hard work cannot be taken for granted.

The mayoral elections had many similarities to the police and crime commissioner (PCC) ones; newly established, directly-elected positions and using the relatively unfamiliar supplementary vote electoral system. The most significant difference, however, was that voters at this year’s mayoral elections received a booklet providing information about the candidates standing.

Information about candidates at the PCC elections in 2012 and 2016 was available on a central Home Office website, but nothing was sent directly to voters. We’ve consistently recommended that candidate information booklets should be sent to all households ahead of future PCC elections, and evidence from the first combined authority mayoral elections suggests this could make a significant difference for voters.

Our research found that more than two thirds (68%) of voters in areas with combined authority mayoral elections agreed they had enough information about candidates to make an informed choice, and only one in three (35%) of all people in our survey said they didn’t have enough information. More than half (55%) said they found it easy to access information on the candidates standing to be a combined authority mayor.

While there is still room for improvement, these are much more positive figures than those at the PCC elections in 2016: six in ten people (61%) said they didn’t have enough information about candidates to make an informed choice, and only one in three (33%) found it easy to access information on the candidates.

In May 2020, the next PCC and combined authority mayoral elections will take place on the same day. Voters will receive booklets with information about the candidates standing for mayor, but they won’t receive information about those seeking to be PCCs.

This is not only confusing and inconsistent, but the evidence we’ve collected this year shows that it serves voters poorly; voters need candidate information booklets for both elections. The Electoral Commission will continue to call on the government to ensure this vital election information is sent to all voters in 2020. Let’s hope that our clear evidence from this year convinces ministers it’s the right thing to do.

Tom Hawthorn, head of policy, Electoral Commission

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