Thursday, June 20, 2013

Geddis on the Electoral Commission

So Peter Dunne got his hearing before the Electoral Commission, and as expected they clung to bronze-age technology and demanded signed physical forms as proof of membership. Their sole concession to the 21st century was that they would accept scans of those forms - but in their view, the only valid way to join a political party is to make scratches on a piece of compressed plant matter. On Twitter last night there wre a few people saying "its the law" - but its not the law. The law says that evidence of membership must be submitted "in a form approved by the Electoral Commission". It does not say what that form must be. This is a purely administrative decision of the Commission, and one which seems completely at odds with modern society. Its like requiring payment by cheque or cash, or requiring job applications to be handwritten rather than typed.

Writing on Pundit, Andrew Geddis has a suggestion:

I do wonder, therefore, if there might not be some room for the Commission to think about developing a process whereby parties can accept online membership applications in place of paper ones. After all, there is no statutory requirement that a party member physically sign a membership application in order to count as a "current financial member" (as there presently is to enrol to vote - which is the main obstacle to any move to full online enrollment). And it is not an offence for someone to falsely sign up as a party member using a fake name and address, so someone adding a made-up signature to a document doesn't carry any extra legal consequences.

Therefore, it is not clear what added value there is in a requirement that parties only may claim "current financial members" using physical membership forms with signatures attached. A printout of 500 completed on-line forms containing the information necessary for the Commission to check whether each person really is eligible to enrol as an elector, along with evidence that the person has paid any relevant membership fee, would seem just as able to provide the necessary basis for the Commission to accept that the party has met the legislative requirement to register.

I agree. And as for suggestions that this will encourage party secretaries to make false claims about membership, the law requires them to sign a statutory declaration. The penalty for doing that falsely is three years imprisonment. If that was actually enforced, them it should provide a strong incentive for party officials to get things right.