Cornwall Council will be asking the Government to clarify the law on the rights of second home owners to register and vote in elections in Cornwall. That was a decision made at today's meeting of the Electoral Review panel and followed a long debate on the extent of the problem in the Duchy.
With around 5% of houses in Cornwall registered as 'second homes', we wanted to know how many people who are not permanent residents in Cornwall are on the electoral register and what action the Council is taking to ensure that no laws are being broken.
The trouble is that the law itself is very unclear. Whilst the Electoral Commission states that second homes which are used for purely recreational purposes and are not the substantive residence cannot be used to register to vote, there is no clear guidance as to how to interpret these statements. The best case law is Scottish and therefore can only guide English cases rather than be used to determine them.
At one extreme, it might be suggested that second home owners have significantly swayed local and general election results. At the other extreme, there may be little or no second home voting and that which does happen may be by people who are perfectly entitled to do so. Members at the meeting expressed both these points of view.
The panel decided to write to the Minister to ask that the law be clarified as soon as possible. With legislation likely soon to introduce individual registration, there is a good opportunity for the Government to do this.
The panel also decided that, with the information that is due to go out later this summer to compile the new electoral register, there should be guidance issued to potential registrants to help them understand the law. But with the Council itself unsure how to proceed, this is a bit of a damp squib.
At the same meeting, the panel also received an assurance from officers that the law regarding the provision of marked registers would be fully complied with. These registers are compiled at polling stations showing who has voted (but, of course, not how they voted). They are made available to political parties to help them with their election work and to help combat fraud. The problem is that six of the Cornish marked registers (out of 500 or so) are missing. They are almost certainly in sealed packets having been wrongly sorted by polling station staff. If necessary, the Council has agreed to ask for a court order to allow them to be found.
And finally (well, actually at the start of the meeting) I was re-elected as the Vice Chair of the Panel. Many thanks to all those colleagues who backed me.