On 26 May 2022, Lord Hayward (Conservative) introduced his Ballot Secrecy Bill [HL] in the House of Lords. It is a private member’s bill, and second reading is scheduled to take place on 15 July 2022.

The bill would amend section 60 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 to create new offences for individuals who accompany a voter to a polling booth or position themselves nearby with the intention of influencing a voter. These new offences would not apply to those under 18 years of age. 

The aim of the bill is to address the issue of ‘family voting’, where more than one voter is present in a polling booth at the same time thereby breaching the secrecy of the ballot. The UN has said that the practice can be intended to influence or remove the choice of a voter, violating the principle of voter secrecy. It has also argued that family voting particularly affects women.

Concerns have been raised that in some areas, including the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, the practice of family voting is widespread. This issue was raised during debates in the House of Lords on the Elections Act 2022, where Lord Hayward tabled amendments aimed at tackling the issue. In response, the government argued that current legislation already prevents individuals from being accompanied in the polling booth, apart from in specific circumstances. However, it agreed to write to the Electoral Commission and Metropolitan Police Service for confirmation on the issue.

Following responses from these organisations, Lord Hayward said that concerns remained. He argued that the Electoral Commission’s advice was inconsistent, and that police and electoral officers experienced difficulties in applying it. He said that this left the police in a difficult position and meant they recorded incidents of family voting rather than stopping them.

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