UK Local Elections & Voter Turnout

Voters outside a polling place, Brisbane, Quee...

Voters outside a polling place, Brisbane, Queensland, 1907 Men and women form a line outside a polling place in Brisbane, watched by officials. 1907 was the first year women voted at an election in Queensland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, the UK holds its elections on weekdays not Saturdays. Voting is voluntary so the turnout varies. Thursday 3rd May 2012 was the day that elections were held in 181 local government authorities throughout England, Wales and Scotland. There was a 32% turnout in England and Wales. Scotland doesn’t start counting ‘til after I publish this post. Well, now at 10:50 Ayrshire looks like about 45% voter turnout. Better. Further update puts the all up Scottish voting contingent at about 38%. Not that much better after all.

Photo of a polling station in a portable cabin...

Photo of a polling station in a portable cabin in the South of Coventry. The structure was temporary and in position on the 3 May 2007 for the local election. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have to say that all three times I have had occasion to attend a polling place in Scotland I have seen only one party leafleted by only one person. Additionally I have met a maximum of half a dozen voters while I was there. I recall local elections in Mullumbimby. Every candidate represented by up to 4 supporters handing out voting preference slips; queues of voters waiting in line at the polling station. Amicable banter all around; mind you, the weather was more conducive to casual socialising than it is here in Scotland.

And in both State and Federal elections in Australia, the candidates’ supporters are out in numbers regaling voters with preferential voting slips for their candidate as the voters walk the gauntlet to the polls. I have not seen anything like that in Scotland.

It is the engagement with the political process that is most marked. I see little, if any, evidence of it here versus the obvious and voiced engagement in Mullumbimby, which maybe has, in part, to do with the type of community in Mullumbimby. I also think that compulsory voting plays a part in the whole community engaging with itself in the election process, which is quite lively in Mullumbimby and in Australia generally. I have lived in many areas in Australia and have voted in different elections in different places – the larger the electorate the more muted the obvious engagement.

Although, the local elections in the UK employ a preferential system of voting which is a marked improvement on the antiquated first-past-the-post system that the UK uses in its Westminster elections, I can’t help but wonder if the voters actually understand the system.

 While FPTP is commonly found in countries based on the British parliamentary system, and in Westminster elections in the United Kingdom, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh National Assembly use a form of PR known as the mixed member system, after New Zealand adopted it in 1993. Five Canadian provinces—British ColumbiaOntarioQuebecPrince Edward Island and New Brunswick— are debating whether to abolish FPTP.[citation needed]

 Australia has used a preferential system of voting for some time, in the Federal elections since 1918. The good thing about preferential voting is that smaller parties and independents, first preference votes are recorded as having achieved that amount of primary votes. This is a good statistic and can be used by the candidate and/or party to build its platform for coming elections. Even though the first vote will probably not get over the line in terms of the set quota, what does happen is that the canny voter is able to register his vote so that none of his/her preferences is wasted. He/she can craft the vote in order that the preferences go down the line and extinguish where the voter wants his vote to extinguish.

There was one comment to my previous post on compulsory vs voluntary voting that again mashed the percentages in an attempt to prove an advantage which just isn’t apparent. I have noted that comparing apples with oranges just doesn’t wash unless you are colour-blind or have your paintbrush dipped in your own paint; otherwise known as having taken a partisan stance.

Of course, cherry picking rarely does work and comments that emanate from a partisan point of view are often able to be shown to have used partisan data that obscures rather than illuminates.

It may well be fair to say that more and more voters in either compulsory or voluntary electoral systems are less and less interested in politics as we all realise that politik speak is a form of bullshit fed to us by newspapers that are owned by media moguls and others who wish to direct the political debate and pepper it with salacious gossip.

At the moment, in the UK the Murdochs are receiving a drubbing that will leave them diminished. In my partisan way, I have to say that is a good job being well done by the Leveson Inquiry. I am finding the Inquiry fascinating and it informs me inter alia in psephology. A laudable pursuit in my older age.


4 comments on “UK Local Elections & Voter Turnout

  1. […] UK Local Elections & Voter Turnout ( […]

  2. Rosie says:

    It is very interesting to read of another system of voting – thanks.
    “Candidates and election agents have the right to enter and to remain in a polling station but they must not disrupt voting or attempt to canvass voters.” This is an extract from the information given to officials at the polling stations and applies to their supporters. So the system is indeed different here to that in Australia where you say voters can be regaled with voting slips. The most that supporters can do at the site of the polling station is take note of numbers and notice who is going in with a view to going and knocking on doors to bring people to vote.
    A compulsory system seems to give more opportunity for electioneering at the polling station, but I don’t imagine Scotland or the UK will be rushing into compulsory voting any time soon.

  3. Veronique says:

    Interestingly, Australia bans media advertising for elections within three days to the voting date. Up until that time, there is media advertising galore. The media blackout has obvious cooling off advantages for the electorate.

    I suppose that because I, and everyone else, was used to running the final gauntlet at the polling station and I had thought long and hard about what and why I was voting that gauntlet wasn’t intimidating.

    Your quote “Candidates and election agents have the right to enter and to remain in a polling station but they must not disrupt voting or attempt to canvass voters.” is interesting.

    No one who is involved with the voting process can enter any polling station in Australia. They are all out on the street as it were. When a voter enters the polling station, he is on his own with whatever voting card(s) he may have accepted from any number of political supporters. But when he votes he is on his own.

    No one is allowed to influence any voter after that voter has entered the polling station. I suspect that is the same in the UK. The wording is always the fly in the ointment.

    I have been a scrutineer during the counting process at several elections in Australia and the absolute professionalism that I have experienced has given me a very different take on various elections with which I have been involved.

    I am not a cynic but have a realistic and supportable stance for an election process that doesn’t need to ferry compliant voters to a polling station. I am pleased that in the UK one can still vote in secret and cast his vote into an anonymous collection box.

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