Elections should be held on special 'Democracy Day' public holidays, say MPs

Political reform committee floats radical ideas to boost flagging turnout

A national “democracy day” holiday should be held when the country votes every five years in an effort to boost turnout at general elections, MPs have said.

They also urged ministers to look at other ways of encouraging people to vote, including switching polling days from Thursdays to weekends and allowing people to cast their ballots online.

Radical ideas were floated by the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, which warned of a “crisis” of voter apathy.

Turnout was only 65 per cent at the last general election in 2010, with almost 16m voters staying away from polling stations and millions more not bothering to register to vote.

“The idea of a ‘democracy day’ fits closely with our view that greater esteem and excitement should return to the electoral process,” the MPs said in a report published today.

“We recommend the Government explore further proposals for weekend voting, extending voting and designating election days as public holidays.”

The committee also backed the automatic registration of electors and trials of voting via the internet “with a view to all electors having the choice of voting online at the 2020 general election”, but it was split over whether voting should be made compulsory.

The MPs called for a parliamentary free vote on whether the voting age should be lowered from 18 to 16 as happened during the Scottish independence referendum.

“We have received a significant amount of evidence that extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds could have a positive impact not just on voter engagement for young people, but also on voter engagement overall in the medium to long term,” they said.

The committee’s chairman, the Labour MP Graham Allen, said: “Our democracy is facing a crisis if we do not take urgent action to make elections more accessible to the public and convince them it is worth voting.”

He added: “The fact that almost 85 per cent of people turned out for the recent referendum on Scottish independence shows that people will turn out if they care about an issue and believe they can make a difference.

“This lesson needs to be learnt and applied to all other elections. We hope our report shows Parliament is waking up to this issue by calling for radical change.”

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