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‘COVID-19 & Democracy’ Consultation Update

30/04/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “‘COVID-19 & Democracy’ Consultation Update”

This week we have been organising the 80+ responses we received to our ‘Democracy & COVID-19’ Consultation! Again we would like to thank everyone that took the time to participate.

Our aim was to analyse the threats COVID-19 and lockdown posed to our democracy and brainstorm what could be done about it. The responses have been a delight to read through.

Ahead of our report’s publication in May, we wanted to share with you some of the consultation’s trends and highlight a few of the responses.

Given the consultation’s timing a few weeks ago, many respondents flagged up the problematic fact that Parliament was not sitting at a time of national crisis. It is good news then, that a socially distanced and remotely functioning Parliament is now back up and running.

The Scottish and Welsh Assemblies were frequently commended for their swift move to remote working. Indeed, this crisis presents a chance for the devolved Assemblies to be real leaders of progressive democratic reform in this country. Fair Vote UK is planning to encourage them to do so in the coming months.

Somewhat further afield, New Zealand, flagged by several submissions, has created a watchable, cross-party special select committee tasked with considering the Government’s response to the crisis. In doing so it has met many of our respondents’ concerns head on. Namely the need for rigorous, transparent scrutiny and non-partisan cooperation. 

Indeed, the Electoral Reform Society, in their response to the consultation, called for the UK to follow suit with, ‘an opposition-led Coronavirus Response Select Committee with full parliamentary powers, to hold government and officials to account across the UK’.

Many respondents recognised that from this unique crisis there is an opportunity for bold reform. 

Online voting, of course, but also online citizen assemblies, as advocated by multiple submissions, or a radical decentralisation of power and strengthening of local authorities, as was also proposed. Given the even greater importance of the internet, it was also argued that the Government should now do much more to ensure every household has access.

But there were also notes of caution.

The Open Rights Group warned against the many dangers inherent in an, ‘uncritical application of digital tools in a time of crisis’. This was echoed by several noting that a rush to online democracy risks alienating the digitally illiterate and digitally excluded.

All of these responses and many more will feature in our report, to be published in May.

Clearly, many challenges lie ahead. But necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention.

Democracy in the Age of COVID-19

23/04/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Democracy in the Age of COVID-19”

First, a huge thanks to the more than 80 individuals and organisations that took part in our consultation ‘COVID-19 & Democracy’. This week we have been reading through and organising all the brilliant responses. We will be using them to compile what will be a valuable report addressing the challenges to democracy that lockdown measures present and what can be done about them. 

Parliament’s resumption this week was very welcome news. PMQs was a reminder of how important proper, public debate is to a democracy. We’d like to congratulate all House of Commons staff for managing the innovative return so well! Yet, as many of you mentioned in the consultation, the Welsh and Scottish Assemblies should be commended for having already implemented remote work weeks ago.

We must not forget, however, that our Parliaments and Assemblies are only a fraction of the picture.

On Tuesday The World Health Organisation’s David Nabarro told the BBC that we must learn to live with COVID-19. Chris Witty reiterated this at Wednesday’s press conference, explaining that some ‘disruptive’ lockdown measures are set to remain in place until at least the end of the year.

This means we must now prepare innovative ways to protect all the functions of our democracy and in particular elections.

The International Institute for Democracy & Electoral Assistance has been keeping a comprehensive list of COVID-19’s global impact on elections and it makes for sober reading. Even in America – a country that has never cancelled or suspended an election even in times of civil war – the current crisis has been upsetting old certainties.

Fair Vote UK will now be turning its attention towards this pressing issue. Suspending elections cannot be the solution and we intend for our report to make clear how this can be avoided so the foundation of our society – free and fair elections – can continue.

‘COVID-19 & Democracy’ Consultation Deadline Extended to 17th of April

14/04/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “‘COVID-19 & Democracy’ Consultation Deadline Extended to 17th of April”

Given the long bank holiday weekend, we have decided to extend the deadline of our ‘COVID-19 & Democracy’ Consultation to Friday the 17th.

Thank you to everyone that has already taken part! 

To those of you that haven’t, we want to hear from you!

Things move quickly in the lockdown. Since the launch of this consultation, Parliament – responding to pressure from the press and civil society – have set forward plans on how to work remotely when they reconvene on the 21st of April.

This is good news, but Parliament is only one part of our democracy. This lockdown is a challenge to so much more.

Elections, for instance, cannot be postponed indefinitely. The worrying scenes from Wisconsin last week show us that protecting the right to vote during this crisis has the potential to be a fraught but vitally important fight.

So many of democracy’s core functions – from voting to MP surgeries and protesting – are threatened by the need to isolate and maintain social distancing. Given that this crisis may last a long time, we have to start thinking creatively about how to protect these core functions.

This is why we launched the ‘COVID-19 & Democracy’ Consultation and why we want to hear from you.

What weaknesses in democratic processes has COVID-19 highlighted?

Which countries/regions have effectively put in place mediating practices that insulate them from the social distancing effects of COVID-19?

If you have any answers to these questions or any ideas about what can be done to protect democratic practices, then please take a moment to fill out our short questionnaire.

A Way To Help Right Now

09/04/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “A Way To Help Right Now”

Are you looking for a way to help out during this crisis? Can you help vulnerable people in your area? Do you need help while you self-isolate or do you know someone that needs help?

Members of our team here at Fair Vote UK have helped Citizen Sector and Tectonica volunteer-build and launch a free app called WeGotYou that helps volunteers connect with people in need.

The idea is simple:

  1. Users can make requests for help (for themselves or for someone else) to collect shopping, pick up medication or simply walk the dog.
  2. Other users can then see the requests that are closest to them and take immediate action to help.

If you’re self-isolating and need help or you’re able to help your neighbours in need, check out the WeGotYou website here!

This crisis has already shown us countless inspiring examples of people volunteering to help their local communities. WeGotYou hopes to supplement and assist this incredible work and give volunteers the tools they need to be at their most effective.

We know, however, that lots of the most vulnerable people are not always online. Crucially, WeGotYou allows people to request help for others, whether they be an elderly neighbour up the road or a relative in another part of the country.

So if you can, sign up at WeGotYou.

Also, please don’t forget our ongoing consultation ‘COVID-19 and Democracy’. You can take part in our questionnaire here. We’d love to hear from you!

Fair Vote UK Launches ‘COVID-19 and Democracy’ Consultation

02/04/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Fair Vote UK Launches ‘COVID-19 and Democracy’ Consultation”

Fair Vote UK are launching a “COVID-19 and Democracy” consultation and we want to hear from you!

It is now clear that this crisis is going to seriously disrupt democratic functions across the world. The lockdown makes it impossible for many core components of democracy to continue as they did before.

How does a parliament “sit” if they cannot convene or vote in person? How do citizens continue to exercise their democratic rights if they cannot leave their house?

The UK acted quickly to suspend elections and close Parliament. These, however, cannot be long term solutions if, as some are predicting, lockdown measures have to continue for an extended period of time.

There are examples everywhere of creative solutions to this problem. The Welsh Assembly, for example, has just announced that it will move to video-link debating. Calls are growing for Parliament to do the same.

Now, we want to hear from you:

Fair Vote UK will be compiling a report into democracy and COVID-19 and want to collect ideas from as diverse a range of people and organisations as possible.

What are the challenges highlighted by this crisis and what could be the solutions?

This is the time to think outside the box!

Please take a moment to complete our short questionnaire.

The consultation will end on the 15th of April.

Running a Democracy in the COVID-19 World

27/03/2020 Posted by News, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Running a Democracy in the COVID-19 World”

It has been another extraordinary week with lockdown measures intensifying across the world. As we all start to acclimatise to a reality that would have been unimaginable only weeks ago, the conversation has started to shift to the political and social impact of this pandemic.

In this time of crisis, we face two particularly important choices. The first is between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment. The second is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity.”

That was Yuval Noah Harrari’s take in a particularly prescient article for the Financial Times that you can read here.

One thing that has received scant attention, however, is the practical question of how a democracy can continue to function during a crisis that shuts people in their homes and could last up to 18 months with the possibility of more disruption beyond that.

It is now impossible to imagine many core components of our democracy – from demonstrations and voting to Parliamentary debates and select committees – continuing as they did before.

That is why Fair Vote UK is turning its attention towards addressing this fundamentally important question.

From Estonia’s long established system of e-voting to the EU Parliament’s recent decision to move to email voting, there are many examples from across the world of how to make remote democracy work in a practical and easy way.

This is the time to think outside the box!

Fair Vote UK are looking forward to engaging with our supporters on this issue. Stay tuned for the opening of our consultation period, when we would love to hear any ideas you have.

Law Commissions Publish Their Report Into Electoral Reform

20/03/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Law Commissions Publish Their Report Into Electoral Reform”

It has been an extraordinary week with measures to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic significantly ramping up and impacting all of our lives.

Perhaps understandably, the publication on Tuesday of a new report into the UK’s electoral law by the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission did not receive a great deal of attention. The report calls for a raft of significant and necessary reforms to our democracy, many of which are at the heart of Fair Vote UK’s mission.

The report (which you can read here) described the UK’s electoral laws as, ‘out-dated, confusing and no longer fit for purpose’.

Nicholas Paines QC, Public Law Commissioner, has warned that if the laws are left as they are, ‘there is a very real risk of the electoral process losing credibility which could be catastrophic’.

Some of the report’s key recommendations include: 

  • Codifying current laws (which are currently spread across 50+ statutes and regulations!) into a single legislative framework.
  • A timely call, made before the current crisis led to the suspension of May’s elections, for reform over the conditions required for suspending polls.
  • The introduction of digital imprints for online campaign material, including for social media advertisements. This would include who has paid for the advert, as is the case for leaflets and traditional advertisements.
  • Improving how election results can be challenged. This would include modernising and simplifying the system; allowing returning officers to bring challenges and giving the court the power to weed out ill-founded claims that waste court time.

 

These are common sense, necessary reforms and are wholeheartedly endorsed by Fair Vote UK.

In a time of crisis like this it is especially important that our system of government remains fair, robust and fit for purpose.

Civil Society is Ready to Tackle Election Safeguarding Reform

13/03/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Civil Society is Ready to Tackle Election Safeguarding Reform”

The campaign to electoral safeguarding reform that is fit for the digital age takes many forms. Fair Vote UK is working with UK, Scottish and Welsh governments to ensure the right legislation is passed and structural reforms are put in place so that our elections are not vulnerable to dark money, disinformation and electoral misdemeanours. Civil society is a vital aspect of this campaign. 

 

We’re delighted to say that we will be working with groups such as the Electoral Reform Society, Open Rights Group, Privacy International, Transparency International, Global Witness, Digital Action and experts from Bangor University. The inaugural meeting of the civil society coalition, which took place on 4th March, was a step to ensuring that this issue remains at the top of the decision maker’s agenda. Moving forward member organisations will be working in concert with each other to complement each other’s policy priorities and to de-conflict campaigning work to avoid duplication. 

 

We will be working together with these organisations to make sure the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments act now to safeguard elections. We will keep you updated as the coalition progresses.

Defending our Democracy in the Digital Age Determines Debate

05/03/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Defending our Democracy in the Digital Age Determines Debate”

Earlier this week, on Wednesday 3rd March, the Electoral Commission gave oral evidence to the House of Lord’s Democracy and Digital Technologies Committee. The discussion was wide ranging and what was most noticeable was how many of the topics raised were issues from APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency’s recently published report. If you’d like to see the evidence session, you can find a video link here. Both the questions from the Peers and answers from officials at the Electoral Commission covered the 20 recommendations of Defending our Democracy in the Digital Age.

 

Two lines of questioning were particularly striking. Firstly, there was no clarity as to why regulation on offline campaigning was significantly stronger than campaigning online. Secondly, laws need to catch up to the realities of digital technologies to allow the Electoral Commission to do its job. The current legal framework simply does not allow the Commission to properly regulate. Amongst other issues relevant to the report, they also discussed plans for better education campaigns at the primary and secondary level, better and more granular use of ad libraries and raising the sanction limit.

 

It’s great to see that the terms of debate are now set and Defending our Democracy in the Digital Age offers evidenced policy solutions. Most importantly we clearly need to change the law to ensure that our elections are properly safeguarded in the future. Regulators know this, experts know this, the public know this and politicians know this. It’s time for action.

Disinformation, Coronavirus and Twitter Tests New Tool

25/02/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Disinformation, Coronavirus and Twitter Tests New Tool”

Disinformation isn’t just a political phenomenon that rears it ugly head during elections. Lies and conspiracy theories are peddled every day on social media, often funded and fuelled by state actors. US State Department officials tasked with combating Russian disinformation have recently confirmed that thousands of Russian-linked social media accounts have launched a coordinated effort to spread alarm about the new coronavirus, disrupting global efforts to fight the epidemic. This campaign has focused efforts on peddling conspiracy theories that the US government is responsible for the current Coronavirus outbreak.

 

“Russia’s intent is to sow discord and undermine US institutions and alliances from within, including through covert and coercive malign influence campaigns,” said Philip Reeker, the acting Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia. 

 

Existing policy on social media companies allow this harmful activity to happen. Though social media companies have acknowledged these threats, as recently as October last year, Facebook stated that it will not be monitoring the truth of statements made on its platform. Some companies are, however, being more proactive. Last week, NBC News reported that Twitter is experimenting with adding brightly coloured labels directly beneath lies and misinformation posted by politicians and other public figures. In this version, disinformation or misleading information posted by public figures would be corrected directly beneath a tweet by fact-checkers and journalists who are verified on the platform and possibly by other users who would participate in a new “community reports” feature, which the demo claims is “like Wikipedia.”

 

This is an encouraging development. We will have to wait and see what the impact is of this new policy if – and when – it is rolled out across the platform. It remains to be seen if it will be used to target all disinformation, not just that of an overtly political nature. What we do know is that if tools like this are to be useful, they can’t just focus on one piece of the puzzle. Lies on social media platforms that are sown to stoke distrust can be equally damaging during and outside of elections.

 

It’s great to see Twitter wants to tackle this. It’s now on Facebook to follow suit. Having shown no intent to do so, governments must now make such requirements statutory.