A vote marred by a bad experiment and public apathy

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The Independent Online

The final results from the mélange of elections that took place yesterday will not emerge until Sunday, but one thing is already clear: many of those entitled to vote didn't bother. The sad fact is that many Britons are increasingly disengaged from the political process, whether on a local or national level, and cannot see the point in taking that short trip to the polling station to perform their democratic duty, whether the elections are for their local council or the European Parliament.

The final results from the mélange of elections that took place yesterday will not emerge until Sunday, but one thing is already clear: many of those entitled to vote didn't bother. The sad fact is that many Britons are increasingly disengaged from the political process, whether on a local or national level, and cannot see the point in taking that short trip to the polling station to perform their democratic duty, whether the elections are for their local council or the European Parliament.

There are a number of factors behind this malaise. It is too simplistic to blame the complexity of the modern voting process. Some suggested that the sheer number of votes people would be asked to cast in yesterday's various elections - as many as five for Londoners - would be confusing and off-putting. But, in the end, the ballot papers were rationally laid out, the instructions clear, the fuss nonsensical. What's more, the variety of candidates and voting systems in play yesterday meant that people could cast their votes in a subtler and more sophisticated manner than under the rigid first past the post format used in general elections. In voting, as so many other areas, choice is to be welcomed.

That is not to say that every innovation on "Super Thursday" was a success. The fiasco in which vast sections of the population were only allowed to vote in advance by post was a disaster. The scheme was cynically conceived and incompetently executed. By concentrating the experiment on the north of the country, Labour was blatantly trying to get its core vote out. Whatever benefit it may have had in boosting the turnout, these gains will only come at considerable cost to the integrity of the system. This sort of gerrymandering undermines the political process and helps foster contempt for politicians, many of whom are trying their best to do a difficult job.

It is, however, vital to experiment with ways to increase the vote. Trials of electronic voting are inevitable, but, bearing in mind the postal voting debacle, must be carefully handled in a non-partisan manner. And whatever the results of yesterday's elections, we share a daunting struggle to make the political process connect with more of the electorate.

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