The Electoral Commission was created following a recommendation by the Fifth report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
The Commission’s mandate was set out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA), and ranges from the regulation of political donations and expenditure by political and third parties through to promoting greater participation in the electoral process.
The Electoral Administration Act 2006 made a number of improvements to electoral registration, improving the security arrangements for absent voting, allowing observers to attend elections and a major change in reducing the minimum age for candidates at UK Parliamentary elections. It also introduced the Performance Standards regime for electoral services.
The Political Parties and Elections Act 2009 granted the Electoral Commission a variety of new supervisory and investigatory powers. It fills significant gaps in the Commission’s current powers, the Act also provides a new range of flexible civil sanctions, both financial and non-financial are currently proposed to extend to regulated donees as well as political parties.
It also permitted the introduction of Individual Electoral Registration in Great Britain and made changes to the structure of the Electoral Commission, including allowing for the appointment of four new Electoral Commissioners who will be nominated by political parties.
The Electoral Commission faced widespread criticism for the handling of the 2010 UK general election, including allegations of fraudulent postal voting, polling stations being unprepared for an evening surge of voters, policing of voters protesting at one polling station, and only enough ballot papers for 80% of voters.
As the regulator of political party funding in the UK, the Commission’s role is to ensure the integrity and transparency of party and election finance.
The Commission provides guidance for political parties and regulated donees to assist them in meeting their legal obligations to follow party funding rules.
Political parties must submit annual statements of accounts, detailing income and expenditure, to the Electoral Commission. The Commission publishes these on its website.
Political parties and regulated donees are required to submit reports of all donations they receive to the Commission. The Commission maintains a publicly available and searchable register of these donations on its website.
At general elections to the UK Parliament, EU Parliament, Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly political parties are required to submit campaign spending returns to the Electoral Commission.
The Commission may impose financial civil penalties on political parties and their accounting units if they fail to submit donation and loans returns, campaign spending return or statements of account.
The Commission also has the power to seek forfeiture of impermissible donations accepted by political parties.
The Commission produces guidance and gives advice on electoral registration to Electoral Registration Officers in Great Britain.
The Commission has published performance standards for electoral registration in Great Britain. Electoral Registration Officers are required to report against these standards and the Commission will make this information publicly available.
As part of this work, the Commission runs a series of public awareness campaigns ahead of elections and throughout the year to encourage people to register to vote.
These focus on audiences that research indicates are less likely to be on the electoral register, including recent homemovers, students and UK citizens living overseas.
The Commission produces guidance and gives advice on electoral administration to Returning Officers and electoral administrators in Great Britain.
The Commission has set performance standards for Returning Officers and Referendum Counting Officers in Great Britain. These standards do not apply to local government elections in Scotland as they are a devolved matter.
The Commission has a statutory duty to produce reports on the administration of certain elections (for example UK Parliamentary General Elections) and may be asked to report on other types of election (such as local government elections).
The Commission is responsible for recommending which regions are allocated how many of the 73 seats that the United Kingdom holds at the European Parliament.
The Electoral Commission has a number of responsibilities in relation to referendums. These include:commenting on the wording of the referendum question (the government is responsible for proposing the wording)
registration of campaigners
designating lead campaign organisations and the making of grants
monitoring referendum expenditure limits and donations
certifying and announcing the result.
As with other electoral events, the Electoral Commission has a statutory duty to prepare and publish a report on the administration of a relevant referendum and to give guidance and advice to administrators and campaigners.
The Chair of the Commission, or someone appointed by the Chair, will also be appointed as Chief Counting Officer.
The Commission has no legal position in the legislation concerning referendums proposed by the devolved Scottish and Welsh administrations. The Welsh have proposed a referendum on additional powers on the assumption that the commission will oversee it, while the Scottish Government are looking into setting up their own commission to oversee the forthcoming referendum on independence in autumn 2014. This is in line with the Calman proposals on the handing over of responsibilities for elections and referendums to the Scottish Parliament.Jenny Watson was appointed by the Speakers Committee in January 2009 as the second Chair of the Electoral Commission. Ms Watson was previously Chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission.
Max Caller is Chair of the Boundary Committee for England.
Henrietta Campbell is the Commissioner with responsibility for Northern Ireland.
Gareth Halliwell is the Commissioner with responsibility for Wales.
John McCormick is the Commissioner with responsibility for Scotland.
Claire Bassett is the current Chief Executive of the Electoral Commission.
From 1 October 2010, four additional Commissioners will serve on a part-time basis who are nominated by the leaders of political parties, scrutinised by the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission and approved by the House of Commons by means of an Address to the Queen requesting their appointment. Those nominated by the three largest parties serve terms of four years, while the Commissioner nominated by a smaller party serves for a two-year term. The appointments of nominated Commissioners are renewable once. The first of these Commissioners will be as follows:Baroness Browning (Conservative)
David Howarth (Liberal Democrat)
Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Labour)
George Reid (Scottish National Party)
To reflect the views of stakeholders and the distinctive procedures and practices in the countries of the United Kingdom there are separate electoral commissions for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Since February 2007 the Commission has also had regional offices across England in the South West, Eastern and South East, London, Midlands, and North of England regions.
The Electoral Commission is answerable to Parliament via the Speaker’s Committee (established by PPERA 2000). The Commission must submit an annual estimate of income and expenditure to the Committee. The Committee is responsible for answering Parliamentary Questions on behalf of the Commission. The member who takes questions for the Speaker’s Committee is Gary Streeter.
The PPP is composed of representatives from all UK parliamentary political parties with two or more sitting MPs. The PPP was established by PPERA and meets quarterly to submit views to the Commission on matters affecting political parties.
There are equivalent non-statutory bodies for the devolved legislatures in Scotland (Scottish Parliament Political Parties Panel), Wales (Wales Political Parties Panel) and Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland Assembly Parties Panel).
The Commission conducts a wide variety of research into electoral administration, electoral registration and the integrity and transparency of party finance, and a variety of guidance materials for political parties, regulated donees and electoral administrators.