Friday, November 14, 2014


I see today that MPs are calling for the days on which General Elections are held to be made public holidays so as to increase the number of people who turn up at polling stations.  The Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee said the move could help `restore greater esteem and excitement to the electoral process.`  The Committee is also calling for automatic registration and trials of voting via the internet, `with a view to voters having the choice of voting online at the 2020 General Election.`

Now it`s true, of course, that turnouts ate elections are pretty abysmal, ranging from around 10% for daft elections like those for Police and Crime Commissioners to still only 65% at the last General Election, so maybe something should be done to avoid the situation whereby that 65% meant that 16 million eligible voters failed to cast their ballot last time around.

But I wonder about the beezer wheeze of turning election days into public holidays. General Elections are normally held in May, just as the Spring sunshine, the lighter evenings and the longer days suggest that, rather than use the day to take part in the bureaucratic Victoriana of visiting polling stations, at least 16 million potential voters are more likely to head for the beach.

Now I have a feeling that the answer lies in the antipodes, where Oscar Hammerstein`s assertion that if you become a teacher, by your pupils you`ll be taught, could have its best example.   The right to vote is a freedom fiercely sought by people the world over, but Australians don`t have a choice.  Registering to vote and going to the polls are legal duties in Australia for citizens aged 18 and over and failing to do so can potentially result in a day in court and a fine.

But it seems to have public support and it seems to work - compared with the UK`s 65% voting at the last General Election, no less than 94% of Australian voters cast their votes in the country`s last Federal Election.   There is an ongoing debate in Australia about its voting system but Dr. Peter Chen, who teaches politics and Sydney University, confirms that there is no sign of any serious measures to end compulsory voting.

"Most Australians are quite comfortable with the electoral process," he says, "and would be quite suspicious of efforts to change it.  We trust the electoral system more than we trust our politicians."   Seems to me that, rather than introducing gimmickry such as public holidays, we should instead learn from our friends Down Under. 

1 comment:

Ray Turner said...

AS you say, I think most voters would say thanks very much, we're off to the beach...