"There are various ideas the UK might borrow from its neighbours in Europe"by Jessica Abrahams / May 19, 2017 / Leave a comment
On 7th May, more than 30 million French citizens cast their votes in a high-stakes presidential election. At around 74 per cent of the electorate, this was the lowest voter turnout since 1969.
If this had happened in the UK, on the other hand, it would have represented the highest turnout for a general election in 25 years. While turnout hovered above 70 per cent between the 1950s and early 1990s, it dropped to a low of just 59.4 per cent in 2001 and has never recovered. When the Conservative Party was re-elected at the last general election, turnout was just over 66 per cent.
Meanwhile, much has been said about participation in the EU referendum last year. Although turnout was considerably higher than for recent general elections, it nonetheless allowed radical change for the country to be passed on the back of a Leave vote from about 37 per cent of registered voters—not to mention those who aren’t registered, estimated at up to 7.5 million people as of 2010 by the Electoral Commission.
There are complex reasons for the UK’s low voting figures. With another election approaching in a few weeks’ time, campaigners argue that some of the most intractable issues surround the first-past-the-post electoral system, which leads many people to feel that their vote is wasted. This is without even getting into new policies which could actively prevent millions from coming out on polling day: yesterday, the Conservatives unveiled plans to stop people without photo ID voting. The pledge has been met with justified outrage. (In Prospect‘s February issue, Desmond King and Rogers Smith outlined the disaster new photo ID laws caused in the US).
In the long-term, much hope is pinned to the potential of online voting, which could vastly increase turnout globally by making it possible to vote at the click of a button. This is likely some way off: while it is in partial use in a number of countries, serious concerns about security persist. The Netherlands—where votes are submitted manually but counted electronically—reverted to pen and paper for the election this March over concerns about possible hacking efforts, including from Russia, amid the risk of growing support for the far right.
But not all reforms require radical overhaul. There are various ideas the UK might borrow from its neighbours in Europe and beyond that could help improve turnout simply by…