Election turnout has been consistently lower than in previous decades with the trend particularly true in local elections and as a consequence a key part of the modern zeitgeist has been political apathy with politicians often making cosmetic changes rather than actually doing anything substantive. Obviously the electoral system is a key reason why people don’t come out to vote in Britain, alongside a perception of a lack of ideological choice between candidates, but this article isn’t about either of them. This article will focus on three things that a government could pass legislation to institute which would boost turnout and create a more informed electorate.
In Britain you become painfully aware when an election is coming up because of adverts on the TV about needing to make sure that you’ve registered to vote. The question that is never asked at this time is why such a process exists; the answer coincidentally is that it doesn’t. The Treasury monitors every young person’s age in the country so that it can allocate people National Insurance numbers; it therefore stands to reason that another government department could automatically register everybody to vote as soon as they hit voting age (which should be lowered to 16). Automatic registration would enable all citizens to go out and vote without creating barriers that modern technology has long made arbitrary.
Another thing people say that prevents them from voting is that they are too busy working, which is a sad indictment of our society as the people having to work such long hours need to have their voices heard in order to change that economic system. The easiest way to overcome this obstacle is to pass legislation mandating that all local, assembly and general elections will automatically take place on bank holidays thus giving people the ability to exercise their democratic right without worrying about missing a shift at work. By having businesses close many people who couldn’t vote before would be able to, and due to the lack of anything else to do people who weren’t going to may go to vote anyway.
With these two suggestions implemented, Britain would have a much larger electorate however nothing would have been done to improve the numbers of informed people; being able to vote more easily doesn’t necessarily mean that a person will be more informed. A solution to such a problem would be to put a copy of each party into the polling booth so that people could spend some time reading through to see which party agreed with that voter’s priorities and ideology. Obviously the number of manifestos would vary based on the number of parties running in that constituency but it would give every voter first hand access to all parties promises thus making it easier for the public to hold them to account rather than rely upon the media. More polling stations may also be needed to cope with extra demand but that would be something that should be embraced rather than seen as a problem.
These three suggestions, which any government could easily get through Parliament, would improve the health of British democracy. It must be said that although these measures would somewhat increase voter turnout, political parties need to become more distinct to give the voter the perception of a wider choice. The electoral system needs to be changed so people’s votes, irrespective of geographic location, count equally and are represented in the House of Commons, but these practical policies are a positive step forward.