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Peers criticise 'cavalier' voting changes to PCC election system

Ditching the voting system for PCC polls is wrong, Lords have argued.

Changes to the voting system for Police and Crime Commissioners have been criticised by peers.

The government’s plans to ditch transferable votes in PCC elections have been criticised by members of the House of Lords – including the former head of the Civil Service.

The proposal, currently part of the government’s controversial Elections Bill, was described as “cavalier” during a scrutiny debate.

Currently, if no candidate secures more than 50% of the first preference votes, the top two continue to a run-off and all other candidates are eliminated.

The government has argued the system is confusing and overcomplicated and stressed the need for consistency.

Ministers want the polls in England to be run as first-past-the-post in the same way as Westminster elections. It would replace the supplementary vote system which sees voters select a first and second preference candidate on their ballot paper.

The change would make a difference in close contests where turnout is likely to be low.

According to the House of Commons library, turnout averaged 33.2% across the 38 PCC elections held last May (measured as valid first preference votes as a proportion of the electorate). Turnout was on average much higher in the Welsh PCC elections compared to the English.

The government also wants the change for combined authority mayors and the mayor of London to be chosen under the first-past-the-post system.

And it’s not the only change – the bill also wants to introduce a demand for voter ID – which would add to demand on officers who are tasked with overseeing polling station securing on election day.

But the reform, contained in the Elections Bill, came under fire in the Lords, not least over the way the change was being introduced.

Ex-head of the Civil Service and independent crossbencher Lord Bob Kerslake argued it was “deeply disrespectful” to the 43 million electors who would have their voting system changed “without any meaningful notice or consultation”.

He added: “Put simply, this is not good enough. Such sweeping constitutional changes should not be made in this cavalier way.”

Labour frontbencher Baroness Hayman of Ullock said: “The clause is about changing the system without any consultation at all.”

Labour peer Lord Campbell Savours, who created the supplementary vote system, said: “It is no more than an attempt to abolish an electoral system that has stood the test of time so as to secure an electoral advantage for the Conservatives.

“The government are effectively seeking to corrupt a system that is fair and, in the absence of full proportional representation, more proportionally reflects the opinion of the wider electorate.”

Responding, Tory Cabinet Office minister Lord True said: “The first-past-the-post system is robust, secure, it provides strong local accountability and it’s no secret that the Conservative Party supports first-past-the-post.

“In the 2019 manifesto we did say we would continue to support the first-past-the-post system of voting. We do and we are.

“We believe that moving to first-past-the-post will make it easier for the public to express a clear preference.

“It’s well understood, it’s trusted, it will reduce complexity for voters and administrators alike.”

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