Some changes in electoral regulation…

Some interesting developments at the Electoral Commission’s post election seminar. Sammy Morse’s constituency profiles got deserved praise from the panel of party elections directors/specialists – even if, as the panel’s chair pointedly remarks, Sammy’s predictions were just as unreliable as most people’s. His work on the detail however was peerless, on or offline!The new man at the Electoral Office, Douglas Bain, had some interesting suggestions for change in future elections. Executive power to make such decisions rests with Lord Faulkener’s Department for Constitutional Affairs (soon to be the new Department of Justice on 9th May, and the Northern Ireland Office.

With identity cards now, by common agreement amongst the parties, taking care of the once vexed issue of personation, he believes it is no longer necessary for parties to post Polling Agents at the polling stations. Cadogan Enwright of the Greens alone demurred, saying that anything that might lessen participation (and scrutiny) in the democratic should be undertaken cautiously. Sean Begley from Sinn Fein suggested that his party would be happy to release people to engage in the most important effort: ie, getting people to the polling station in the first place.

Bain is clearly a fan of electronic counting (though not the highly contentious issue of electronic voting): “with a fair wind we could perhaps have something place by late 2008”. It was noted from the floor (I think) that although two days may be a long time to wait for results, manual counting does at least afford candidates some idea of their fate before taking the platform to be counted either out or in.

The Commission itself is to heighten the level of scrutiny of election spending in Northern Ireland. Under petition, it has agreed not to bring us in line with Britain by demanding that all donations are made public after some strong lobbying from political parties, citing issues of personal safety. But they are keen to move as quickly as possible to that more normalised position.

Interestingly they have put a lot of effort in the run up to the election monitoring the activities of the various parties during the campaign, and are confident that they have reasonable idea of the levels of expenditure they should be submitting within the next month or so. So we may not, in future, see a situation which one wag on the panel described as seeing “the UUP declare £2 million of expenditure, and Sinn Fein £3.50”.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty