The Electoral Commission of 2001 looked into the lowest voter turnout at the June 2001 election. In this election only 59.4% of those entitled to vote did so. The 1997 election figure was 71.4%. Many feel that British politics suffers accordingly when people appear to show such apathy and the whole principle of democracy comes under threat.
The Electoral Commission concluded that the low turnout was not a sign that people no longer cared about politics – in fact, many who did not vote professed to care very much about politics in Britain. It did conclude that the fault lay with a failure of the whole election campaign to “connect with the electorate”.
The Commission came up with a number of ways in which turnout at future elections might be improved.
1. The electoral structure should allow “positive abstention” whereby an entry on a ballot paper would allow voters to vote for “none of the above”.
2. Compulsory voting, as in Australia. A poll by MORI indicated that support or otherwise for this was slightly in favour of not introducing it.
3. More encouragement to register especially in large cities where it was easier for potential voters not to register. The Commission suggested that estate agents and mortgage lenders could supply home buyers with registration forms.
4. Fixed date elections. This would take away a government’s ability to set the date of an election which was usually when the situation in Britain suited the party in power (such as good economic growth; low mortgages; opposition in disarray etc)
5. Better pay for those who do the counting after the voting booths have shut. The Commission did not explain how this might increase voter turnout.
6. Internet voting. Nearly 50% of 18 to 24 year olds who were asked, stated that they would be more likely to vote if they could use the Internet to do so. This would help to address the low turnout in this age group.
7. Telephone voting. 66% of those asked stated that they would vote if they could do so over the phone.
8. Greater use of postal voting. This, as the Commission recognised, could lead to more fraud.
The Commission did state that whatever improvements are made in the way people can vote, many will not vote if they feel ostracised by the system and if an election campaign fails to spark an interest in potential voters then all the reforms imaginable will not help.