Police Chief Elections: Voters 'Not At Heart'

Police Chief Elections: Voters 'Not At Heart'

Voters were not at the heart of the process for the police and crime commissioner elections (PCC) electoral staff have said.

Electoral administrators said they were faced with high volumes of enquiries and complaints from members of the public about the elections last November.

Information was not readily accessible and was not well co-ordinated at a national level, the Association of Electoral Administrators ( AEA ) found.

PCCs, which replaced existing police authorities in 41 force areas across England and Wales, have the power to set force budgets and even hire and fire chief constables.

But the process was marred by a record-low turnout with around one in seven bothering to go to the ballot box, prompting a detailed inquiry by the Electoral Commission.

The AEA, which has nearly 1,700 members, said it found that the detailed rules on how the elections should be run and how much could be spent in order to deliver them were both "extremely" late.

The organisation concluded that it was "not in the interests of voters" or the Government to hold a major national poll in November.

The report said: "Government responsibility for delivering the first elections of police and crime commissioners lay with the Home Office.

"They did not have sufficient resources or the level of expertise to do so effectively and the electoral process suffered as a result."

In the future, the AEA said, the Cabinet Office should oversee all electoral administration matters and ensure that electoral law and funding are in place six months before the election.

It urged the Electoral Commission to consult senior election officials and electoral administrators to agree an approach to performance standards at future elections.

It also said candidates at PCC elections should be made aware of the disqualifications from being nominated.

Falklands veteran Simon Weston had to pull out of the police commissioner race because it emerged he had broken the law when he was 14 years old.

Independents were the big winners in the elections last year, with a number of former senior police officers and an ex-judge among 12 non-party candidates chosen for the new £100,000-a-year job. The other PCCs were either Conservative or Labour.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "These elections marked the biggest democratic reform in policing in our lifetimes.

"More than five million people turned out to vote for the first ever election of police and crime commissioners, giving them an infinitely bigger mandate than the unelected and invisible police authorities they replaced.

"That number will only grow in the future as people see the real impact PCCs are already making in their areas, delivering on public priorities in tackling crime.

"The Home Office will look at the points made in this report, along with the conclusions of the Electoral Commission's upcoming assessment."

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