Legal rights for voters who couldn’t vote in UK elections

By | May 12, 2010

ballot-boxOfficial election monitors from Commonwealth countries were at the UK General Election last week, presumably hoping for hints as to how to run free elections efficiently.  Instead they were shocked and believed the integrity of the result was at risk because the system is based on trust rather than security and proper identity checks, according to The Sunday Times.

Ballot system open to abuse

Observers from countries such as Kenya, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Nigeria believe the system where people turn up to a Polling Station and simply give names and addresses (polling cards are issued but do not have to be shown) in order to be issued with a ballot paper is open to abuse.

If there is room for abuse, this has been there for many years as the system has barely changed since Victorian times despite the considerable widening of the franchise.  The Electoral Commission has warned of possible problems for years but has no funds or power to do anything, and successive governments have not acted as presumably they felt the system just about hung together.

Voters queued for hours – and still no vote

Last Thursday saw reports of people as young as 14 being issued with polling cards and a number of people being denied the right to vote, in numerous locations, despite queueing for hours before the polls closed.  The result of the election has seen a rise in interest in the electoral system and how it is administered and changes to both now do seem likely.

Is there any redress for those who did not vote despite being in the queue when the polls closed?  An electoral petition under the Representation of the People Acts could see orders for a rerun of the election in constituencies where the result was close, but no individual redress.

Compensation may be available

However, Article 3 of the First Protocol on the European Convention on Human Rights, adopted as part of UK law from 2000 in the Human Rights Act 1998 says that free elections must be held at reasonable intervals by secret ballot ‘under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature’.

A right without a remedy is odious, so compensation may be available under the Human Rights Act for individuals who can prove they were denied the opportunity of voting last Thursday.

About Chris Gale

Chris graduated from University College Cardiff in 1977 and qualified as a solicitor in 1980. He moved to academia in 1990 with an appointment at the Polytechnic of North London and joined Leeds Metropolitan University (Leeds Law School) in 1994, becoming head of undergraduate studies and being responsible for profiling, timetabling and staff development across the School. He joined Bradford University Law School as the inaugural Director of Legal Studies in July 2005.

Specialties: Human rights, Sport and the Law, Public Confidence in the Legal System