Democracy Volunteers works across the UK observing elections and encouraging best practice. We are entirely voluntary and depend entirely on donations. Initially set up by students of the University of Exeter we now increasingly observe elections across the UK. This year alone we have observed elections in Wales for the National Assembly for Wales, in Tooting for the parliamentary by-election and across the country for the EU referendum.
Election Observation happens across the world and the UK is a leading participant in organisations, such as the OSCE/ODIHR, which monitor these elections. However, within the UK it is a new process that allows approved observers the right to attend polling stations, the counting of votes and other aspects of the process to ensure that elections are fair. Although what we do involves politics we are not party political in any way.
We observe in teams of two, as is the standard for international observation, and the teams answer twenty questions about what they have seen inside and outside the polling station. These range from the conduct of party volunteers and how they engage with the electorate and polling staff to whether the ballot box is properly sealed (a key test of whether an election is legitimate) to whether we observe so-called 'family voting' and other serious offences such as impersonating another voter or handing a ballot paper to another voter to cast on their behalf.
We have seen all these activities in our observations.
We also attend the counting of votes at the elections we attend to try to ensure that counting is as transparent as possible and the credibility of the result is clear.
Democracy and democratic elections are a fundamental aspect of the UK and ensuring the quality of elections is not just the responsibility of institutions but citizens as well. Although our observation teams are entirely voluntary there are costs that we incur such as travel and overnight expenses that we would like to be able to reimburse to the team. As the team grows and our observations become more diverse this is a key aspect of making sure we can build a stronger and more robust organisation for future elections.
Although we have almost certainly had the majority of elections this calendar year we now have to organise for 2017 and any other parliamentary by-elections in 2016 and 2017. We may also have to prepare for a UK general election and possibly another referendum in Scotland on independence.
As such we are trying to raise a minimum of £2500 to see the organisation through to May 2017 and ensure that we can train new observers to cover the eventualities that may crop up over the next 6 months.
You can find out more about what we do here: Democracy Volunteers Website.