EDDC chief exec defends voter registration tactics

East Devon District Council Chief Executive Mark Williams.

East Devon District Council Chief Executive Mark Williams. - Credit: Archant

The chief executive of East Devon District Council (EDDC) defended his tactics over voter registration in the region when he appeared before a panel of MPs last week.

Members of the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee quizzed Mark Williams on the process behind the matter in the district, and why thousands of eligible voters were not registered for the European elections in May.

But Mr Williams denied accusations that he had failed to carry out his legal duty, and defended his performance in East Devon - saying that his more cost-effective methods had resulted in a registration rate 10 per cent higher than the national average.

Mr Williams attended the committee on Monday, October 13, in his capacity as electoral registration officer for East Devon, along with his Mid Devon counterpart, Kevin Finan.

He gave evidence on the challenges faced by local authorities in terms of voter engagement.

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Mr Williams was asked to explain why East Devon is one of 22 authorities that had not carried out its legal duty to visit homes where nobody is registered to vote.

Quizzing the EDDC chief on his performance, Labour MP Chris Ruane asked Mr Williams why, for the past two years, had more than 3,000 households - which were not registered to vote - not been visited by doorstep canvassers.

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Mr Ruane said: “Can I say that I think you are breaking the law and you are one of few authorities that have repeatedly and brazenly broken the law.

“Do you share the opinion that £40,000 - on a £200million budget or whatever you have - is too much to spend on doorstep canvassing to fulfil your legal obligation to maximise the register?

“It is a question of democracy. What price democracy?”

Mr Williams told the hearing that although there were homes that had not been physically visited by canvassers, he had employed a system which yielded ‘the same, if not better’ results.

He said: “I’m satisfied that if the objective is to get the voter to vote, you can do it through more amenable ways for the voter – which is dealing with them through the phone and other means which they find more comfortable than necessarily appearing on the doorstep when it’s dark outside or when they have other things to do.

“Through approaching the matter afresh and trying to get to the purpose of what we are trying to do, which is to get the voters through the polling station or otherwise a postal vote, I can deliver to you the same rates and higher turnouts than you get elsewhere in the country.

“If the purpose of the system is to make sure that people can vote, I do not have complaints about not being able to vote in East Devon.”

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