British electoral system faces ‘perfect storm’

Urgent reforms needed to deal with Russian meddling and local council cuts, says watchdog

Voters could soon be asked to bring photo ID to polling stations under planned reforms
(Image credit: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Britain’s electoral system is facing a “perfect storm” that threatens the credibility of the electoral system, according to the head of the Electoral Commission.

Sir John Holmes, a former diplomat in Moscow, citied Russian meddling on social media and local council cuts as two of the factors undermining faith in British democracy.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4 before a speech at the Institute of Government, Holmes said the country’s electoral laws were a “mess” and called for sweeping reforms to the voting system.

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In a separate interview with The Times, he proposed a series of changes, including: new rules to require political campaigners to identify themselves on all online advertising, big increases in fines for political parties that flout election spending laws, a new system requiring all voters to show photo ID at polling station, changes to the electoral register to prevent duplicate entries and extended voting hours.

His proposals were prompted in part by an ongoing investigation by the Commission into allegations of Russian interference in last year’s Brexit referendum and June’s general election.

Holmes lambasted current electoral legislation as “a complete mishmash of law and regulations dating from the 19th century, which makes things incredibly complicated” and totally unsuited to the age of the internet. He said systems needed to be put in place to ensure that internet companies provided information about threats to the commission in “real time” so it could “intervene”.

Both the Electoral Commission and House of Commons media select committee have spoken to Facebook, Google and Twitter asking for information on alleged Russian election hacking.

The US Congress is also investigating alleged interference in last year’s presidential election.

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