Now we have heavily promoted advance voting for two weeks leading up to the election, during which time campaigning for votes is full on, it’s more than a little anachronistic that on election day itself publishing anything that may influence how someone votes is forbidden by our electoral law.
This was originally an exclusion on media advertising or reporting. That is now extended to not only blogging but to all social media commenting.
Up until Thursday night (Friday’s figures haven’t been posted yet) the Electoral Commission report that 557,174 people had advance voted and they expect the final figure to be around 700,000.
In the 2011 election 2,278,989 voted. If a similar total votes this time that means about one third will have advance voted while campaigning and vote soliticiting was very active.
So it’s odd that the rest of us are protected from influence in election day.
The Electoral Commission states:
ELECTION DAY RULES FOR CANDIDATES, PARTIES AND THIRD PARTIES
This guidance has been produced to help candidates, parties and third parties comply with the law by setting out the general rules for behaviour on election day and during the advance voting period.
Any activities (including advertising) promoting the election of a candidate or party, or attacking a party or candidate, are prohibited on election day before 7pm (Saturday 20 September 2014) and are a criminal offence. The full list of prohibited activities is set out insection 197 of the Electoral Act which effectively prohibits anything that can be said to interfere with or influence voters, including processions, speeches or public statements.
On election day you must not:
- Display any hoardings – all election signs must be taken down or covered up before election day.
- Display any other election advertising – cover up or place away from public view vehicles advertising parties or candidates (this includes flags and bumper stickers).
- Distribute any campaign material.
- Distribute or display anything showing political party or candidate names.
- Post election-related material online. This includes election-related posts on social media such as Facebook or Twitter.
- Take part in any election-related demonstration or procession.
- Wear or display clothing that promotes a political party or candidate.
- Conduct opinion polling of voters.
In relation to websites and social media:
There are additional restrictions on election day. On election day (from midnight on 19 September until 7pm on 20 September) there is a general prohibition of the publication of any statement that is likely to influence which candidate or party a person should, or should not, vote for.
Election advertising does not have to be removed from social media so long as:
- the material was published before election day
- the material is only made available to people who voluntarily access it, and
- no advertisements promoting the page or site are published on election day.
If you use social media, do not post messages on election day that could breach these rules. The Commission recommends candidates and parties temporarily deactivate their Facebook campaign pages to avoid the risk of supporters committing an offence by posting on your page. For other forms of social media where others can post comments the Commission recommends that where possible security settings are changed so that other people cannot post messages before 7pm on election day.
Posts on social media that are not connected in any way with the election can of course be posted on election day.
So as long as you post something prior to midnight on election eve it’s fine, even if it is prominently displayed during election day. But you supposedly can’t post anything on election day.
While most of the Electoral Commission advice relates to parties and candidates “a general prohibition of the publication of any statement that is likely to influence which candidate or party a person should, or should not, vote for” implies that these gagging rules apply to everyone.
To an extent this is understandable, if individuals were allowed to promote party and candidate voting then parties would find ways to sneak around the rules.
But when an increasingly large proportion of people vote while campaigning is in full swing this seems anachronistic.
I wasn’t going to tell you who you should vote for anyway. Just make an effort to vote if you are inclined towards voting.