Page last updated at 10:53 GMT, Wednesday, 27 August 2008 11:53 UK

UK election laws 'under strain'

Ballot boxes
The commission has called for individual voter registration before

The UK's electoral system is stuck in the 19th Century, under "severe strain" and needs reform, a report says.

The Electoral Commission, set up to oversee the electoral process, wants simpler rules on running elections.

It calls for clear leadership with new election management boards and individual voter registration.

It says a new board should oversee Scottish elections, after more than 140,000 ballot papers were rejected in 2007, amid widespread voter confusion.

'Fragmented arrangements'

An independent study into those elections found mistakes at all levels and suggested voters were treated as an "afterthought".

The commission said it was unlikely that the "current fragmented arrangements for electoral administration" would be used if the system was being designed from scratch.

We are still trying to run 21st Century elections with 19th Century structures, and the system is under severe strain
Sam Younger
Electoral Commission

Commission chairman Sam Younger said "a consistently high standard of service for all electors" was needed.

Mr Younger said: "The planning and running of elections need to be more robust and co-ordinated. We are still trying to run 21st Century elections with 19th Century structures, and the system is under severe strain."

The report proposes that funding for electoral administration should be improved, changes to electoral law finalised at least six months before any election and returning officers' roles strengthened.

Scottish board

It also suggests bringing returning officers and registration officers together into regional electoral management boards to co-ordinate local elections.

And it says there should be an electoral management board for Scotland - made up of returning officers and electoral registration officers.

Chief executive Peter Wardle also called for changes to the voter registration system "so that each of us goes on the register, takes individual responsibility for that, rather than relying on the head of a household, and gives identifiers - signatures, dates of birth, National Insurance numbers so that our identity can be checked".

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "The government is committed to the highest standards in the administration of elections and we will carefully consider these proposals.

"While the Electoral Commission's report into the May 2008 Greater London Authority and local elections found that these had generally been run smoothly, we are not complacent and we will continue to work with administrators and the commission to ensure that elections are run efficiently and effectively".

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