How internal audit helped ensure the integrity of the general election
Internal auditing is a vital means of helping organisations improve their operations across several areas – from governance to risk management – through recommendations based on data and processes.
While these benefits are most commonly associated with the corporate world or public sector bodies, they also have a significant impact on major events like the recent UK general election. Technological changes and an increasingly complex array of political activities mean the Electoral Commission has a tougher role than ever in ensuring elections are truly free and fair – and internal auditing plays a key role in helping to achieve this essential goal.
Problems with the UK electoral system
We may like to believe that the UK enjoys some of the freest and – with the issue of proportional representation aside – fairest elections in the world. However, the thinktank Policy Exchange last year suggested otherwise, predicting there would be at least 13 million errors on the electoral roll going into the 2015 general election – up from around seven million in 2005.
Data from the Electoral Commission showed that 8.5 million people with the right to vote were not included on the register for their current address.
Furthermore, Policy Exchange highlighted numerous examples of ongoing regulatory failure, such as allowing BNP breakaway group Britain First to include the phrase “Remember Lee Rigby” on ballot papers for last May’s European Parliament elections.
What’s more, since 2001, jail sentences have been handed out to at least 37 people for electoral crimes across 18 different cases.
Report author Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky warned: “An error-filled voting roll is an indication of regulatory failure, since a complete and accurate list of those qualified to vote is fundamental to electoral democracy.”
These problems are exacerbated when you consider the significant impact that can be caused by just a handful of incorrect votes. Heading into this year’s general election, the seat with the smallest majority – just four votes – was Fermanagh and South Tyrone, held by Michelle Gildernew for Sinn Fein. The smallest ever majority was recorded in 1931, when AJ Flint won Ilkeston North by two votes.
Internal audit’s role in resolving these issues
Given the sheer number of things that can go wrong and the potentially seismic effect of these errors, the Electoral Commission has a huge task on its hands to deliver truly accurate results.
That’s why the body has a dedicated Audit Committee, which offers objective advice on a range of issues and strives to ensure that the commission abides by the best possible risk, control and governance processes in place. The committee also works with the Electoral Commission’s accounting officer – namely, its chief executive – when carrying out formal accountability responsibilities.
The committee is made up of three commissioners, appointed by the board, along with an independent advisor who acts as the committee’s chair and has no other connection with the commission itself.
Members serve on the committee for up to three years, unless they ask to quit or decide to stand down as commissioners. They can be reappointed for a further period of no longer than three years.
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