Election law: Call for change in law to protect right to vote

Election law: Call for change in law to protect right to vote

The House of Lords Constitution Committee has called for a change in the law, which would guarantee that voters who arrive at a polling station before 10pm would be legally entitled to cast their ballot.

The change is said to be urgent, and must be in place before the next general election in May 2015.

The recommendation comes almost two years after unprecedented scenes at polling stations at the last general election in 2010, when around 1,200 voters were unable to cast their ballot after being held in long queues outside stations in 16 different constituencies.

The delays were not isolated to one region, but were spread around the country in cities including Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle and London.

The law currently states that votes may be cast after 10pm but only if the ballot paper has been handed to the voter before that time. However, ballots cannot be given out after that time to anyone who is still queuing outside, even if they joined that queue before 10pm. The Committee says this is unsatisfactory, and the law must be changed.

“If we are to ensure there is never a repeat of the chaotic scenes we saw in 2010 the Government must now amend the law to ensure voters in a polling station, or in the queue at a polling station, at 10pm on polling day are allowed to vote,” said Baroness Jay, who chairs the Lord’s Committee.

The Law Commission is currently conducting a review of election law, but this is not due for publishing until 2017, which the Committee says will be too late.

“This cannot wait for a Law Commission review that doesn’t report until 2017, the Government should make these changes before the next general election,” Baroness Jay added.

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