Just one person in five believed they received enough information to cast an informed vote in last year’s ill-fated contests for the first Police and Crime Commissioners, the elections watchdog said today.
In a scathing verdict on the Home Office’s mishandling of the polls, the Electoral Commission said the department believed that simply holding the contests would be enough to inspire voters to take part.
In the end, turnout in the 41 elections in November slumped to a derisory 15 per cent, the lowest level of any nationwide election held in peace time.
The commission called for wide-ranging changes to avoid a repeat of the fiasco at the next set of PCC elections in 2016.
It discovered that only 22 per cent of electors said they had enough details about their candidates to be able to choose properly between them. More than half (55 per cent) found it difficult to find information about candidates, while 76 per cent said they either knew nothing or “not very much” about the elections.
The Home Office decided against paying for a mailshot to all households in England and Wales, relying on electors finding out online about the candidates in their areas. It also ran a £3m advertising campaign to raise awareness of the elections, but election rules meant it had to end several weeks before voting.
Jenny Watson, the Chair of the Electoral Commission, said: “The overriding lesson is that the Government cannot assume holding an election is enough on its own to inspire participation.
“People have to know what they are voting for, and understand what different candidates might offer, in order to participate. And to make sure voters can play their part easily, those responsible for running the polls must have clarity far enough in advance of election day to allow for proper planning.”
She also said the rules for the PCC elections were “confirmed unacceptably late, causing confusion for candidates and electoral administrators”.
Ms Watson added: “The Home Office does not have experience in preparing for elections and they need to be better supported in future by the parts of Government that do.”
PCCs, which replaced existing police authorities, were handed the power to set force budgets and even hire and fire chief constables. The victors are paid salaries between £65,000 and £100,000 depending on the size of the forces they are overseeing.