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Turnout for the last general election was only 65%—almost 16 million voters chose not to participate—and millions of people are not even registered to vote. This is not an acceptable state of affairs for a modern democracy, and it is why the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee decided to look into why voter engagement in the UK has declined in recent decades, and what can be done to reverse this trend.
Today we have published an interim report on voter engagement which considers some radical changes to the way people register to vote and participate at elections. This report is the product of over a dozen oral evidence sessions and more than a hundred pieces of written evidence. I hope this shows the seriousness with which we have taken our work.
We have looked at a wide range of ways of getting the public to reengage with elections – including compulsory voting, online voting, letting people register and vote on the day of the election, and doing more to support those organisations that actually work to convince people to register to vote and turnout at elections.
Because this is a serious question, which requires an equally serious answer, the conclusions and recommendations in this report are not our final word on the matter. Instead, we are putting these out for consultation, and asking for the views of the public and any organisation which has an interest in democratic and political participation. We are asking people to respond to the proposals we have considered so that we can produce a final report in the new year, ahead of the 2015 general election.
No single change will suddenly reengage the public with elections or politics more broadly, and although we have not yet taken a view on what the right package of reforms is, it is clear that the status quo is not sustainable.
In order to be able to bring forward the best possible set of reforms to current arrangements for elections and electoral reigstration, we need to hear from everyone that reads this. No one is unaffected by the decisions made by elected representatives, so it is of the umpost improtance that arrangements for elections and electoral registration have the support of the public, and make engaging with elections as easy and worthwhile as possible.
The fact that almost 85% 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.
Some of the proposals we are asking you to consider are:
- - Making voting compulsory in some elections, with an option to “abstain” or vote for “none of the above”
- - Extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds
- - Modernising electoral administration by considering options such as automatic registration, letting people register on the day of an election, online voting and many more
- - Reforming party structures to better engage with the public
- - Looking at how the media and politics can interact for the greater good of a healthy democracy
- - Taking forward decentralisation and devolution so the electorate can engage much more in deciding their own affairs
- - Doing more to increase registration for those people under representated on the electoral registers—including young people, British citizens living overseas, commonwealth and EU citizens and members of some Black and Minority Ethnic groups
This list is by no means complete, and you can find the full list of conclusions and recommendations from our interim report on pages 82 to 94. We welcome your comments on any and all of these.
If you would like to respond to our report, you can do so here: Submit evidence on the Proposals on voter engagement
Graham Allen MP
Chair, Political and Constitutional Reform Committee
For more articles on reform and constitutional change, see our new series, the Great Charter Convention, examining the case for a people's constitutional convention and with an eye on next year's 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.