Election law needs to change before any election to safeguard our democracy

3 September 2019 | WILL MOY

The government has agreed that election law must be updated and that the integrity of our elections is at risk. But that work has not yet been done. This means that any election held today would be open to abuse.

Full Fact has today written to all MPs and Peers, highlighting recommendations that UK election law needs to be updated before any election. These come from the DCMS Select Committee, the Electoral Commission, the Committee for Standards in Public Life, and others. 

In particular, we agree with the DCMS Select Committee’s call for emergency legislation to safeguard our democracy. 

We believe that stopgap legislation and safeguards for a snap election should, at a minimum, include:

  • Transparency of online campaigning
  • Transparency of online advertising
  • A protocol for warning the public when major interference is detected

As a charity committed to protecting public debate, and as experts in tackling misinformation and disinformation, Full Fact has offered its assistance to government and parliamentarians to help develop this legislation if necessary.

Other free countries have been preparing carefully to protect their elections from foreign and other interference and disinformation campaigns - for example Canada has carried out detailed work through its Protecting Democracy programme. 

In contrast, while the UK government has been a world leader in seeking to develop a proportionate response to the risks and harms from disinformation, unfortunately it has not yet taken the action needed to safeguard elections.

Our letter makes it clear that the UK urgently needs to catch up if an election is imminent.

We need you to help us safeguard democracy. Share our calls for urgent change to the UK’s electoral laws.

We are not alone in making this call.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s Chair Damian Collins said in July:

“We know that our electoral laws are not fit for purpose. Political campaigns are fought online, not through the letter box and our laws need to be brought up to date with the digital age. We’ve repeatedly highlighted threats to our electoral system and it’s essential that public confidence is restored.”

The Electoral Commission has been calling for imprints on digital election and referendum campaign material since 2003.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life backed these requests in its 2019 report, Intimidation in Public Life.

There is a widespread consensus on the importance of these steps. The government acknowledged in the response to the Protecting the Debate consultation, “the majority of respondents supported the idea of digital imprints and encouraged taking steps to combat election disinformation and undue influence online”.

The government recognises the risks created by allowing elections to continue to operate as they have, saying that extending the imprint rules to digital communications was “essential for promoting fact-based political debate and tackling disinformation online”.

In May 2019, the DCMS Select Committee Chair warned in a letter to the Cabinet Office: 

“Were an election or referendum to take place later this year, campaigns will be fought using electoral law that I think we can all agree is no longer fit for purpose...Public confidence in the integrity of our democracy is of imperative importance.”

Those risks are real. That is why we’ve asked all MPs and peers to help ensure that whenever the next election is fought it is appropriately protected in line with the Select Committee’s and others’ recommendations.

You can help us spread the word. Share our calls for urgent change to safeguard our democracy. 


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