Good news everyone!
It’s the European parliamentary election on Thursday.
Given the amazingly high turnouts of previous european elections (perhaps as much as 25% last time), I’m sure the effect on democracy will be significant.
Or perhaps not.
The elections here use a proportional representation system which is relatively complicated to understand anyway.
In addition many areas of England have adopted entirely postal ballots. Postal ballots are inherently less secure as a means of voting. It is obvious that making people vote in person at a fixed location overseen by election officials is going to be more secure than sending out pieces of paper, getting people to fill them in and return them by post.
The most obvious thing is voter inducements. What is to stop a crooked party from offering inducements to people to vote for them. For instance offering a cash sum to anyone willing to fill in the form and then show the completed form to a party agent.
I believe the majority of people to be honest enough not to do this, but most people aren’t voting in this type of election anyway. If the small, dishonest element, can all be persuaded to vote in this way then I greatly fear for the state of democracy in this country.
Given the overwhelming advantages in security for polling station based elections, why are postal voting schemes happening at all?
Some people say that postal voting is cheaper, but democracy should not be cheap. If we want a democracy we must be willing to pay for it.
Another reason is that of turnout. The claim is that postal voting will increase voter turnout. I’m somewhat sceptical of this idea. If people are unwilling to take 20 minutes out of their day to vote at a polling station then why should they take 10 minutes out of their day to vote by post, especially given the requirement to find an unrelated person to counter-sign the document.
We will of course see if this all postal ballot does increase turnout. I will be somewhat surprised if it affects things significantly.
An important point to note here of course is that previous elections cannot be used for comparison. Only other (similar) regions that are not using postal voting.
Turnout in elections is to some extent driven by the political mood in the country and so it is probably not correct to compare turnout figures between elections and state categorically that changes in election technique have changed turnouts.
The real reason for poor turnout of course is a lack of excitement in the political process. People are not inspired by their politicians. When the choice is between three different gray suited men with policies that differ only in the details of the third footnote, why bother voting at all?
Forced voting is definitely not the answer. Some have suggested it as a solution but not voting is a choice that must be respected. Some people do not wish to vote as a protest, others may have other objections. Forcing people to vote seems to me to be anti-democratic and quite wrong. In practice in tends to lead to spolit ballot papers. There is also no particular evidence that it leads to better results. It also has overtones of communist countries where the glorious leader achives 102% of the vote against a turnout of 109%.
The government needs to be educating people more about the importance of voting. People also need to be told about the significance of the European parliament. It is the highest elected body for all european countries, yet it is hardly discussed at all in newspapers or television news. There is no regular coverage of the chamber, little understanding of how it works and no clear idea of what it actually does. This has to change.
We are either in Europe or we are not. Since we appear to be in Europe, we must either accept the situation or act to change it. We cannot just ignore it and hope that it goes away because it won’t.
That is not to say that I am an anti-EU person. I simply wish for people to understand the great importance of the European parliament to the lives of everyday people across Europe.
So the key points:
- Educate people about the role that the EU plays in their lives. It is more important than many people think
- Say NO to postal ballots. Corruption is almost inevitable
- Encourage people to vote using education campaigns, but don’t make it a crime not to vote