Sunday, October 15, 2006

"I'm not voting because I don't know how"

One of the polling stations in my old ward is the local primary school. Usually this is closed for polling day. However, at the recent by-election the headteacher decided to keep the school open, which was undoubtedly one of the reasons why we won by such a significant margin.

Our candidate got a terrific reception outside the school gates, with lots of parents telling us that they had voted Labour as they came out after dropping their kids off and then popping next door to the polling station. There were a few who despite the blizzard of leaflets in the run up hadn't realised that there was an election on, who found it a convenient time to be reminded.

There were a few who were more reluctant. It turned out that in many cases the reason for this was that, while they support Labour, they hadn't planned to vote because they had never been to vote, didn't know how and were embarrassed at the idea of having to go and ask, or of doing it wrong. Happily, because there were a lot of people about, most of them had friends who were going along to vote who went with them and showed them what to do.

There are lessons to be learned from this. Firstly, in any election, we should do our best to try to make sure that where schools are polling stations, that they remain open. This is a simple way of boosting turnout - for many parents the only convenient time to go and vote is just after dropping their kids off, and if the school is shut, they won't have a chance to go and vote.

Secondly, it shouldn't be assumed that everyone knows about how to vote, and there must be ways of making sure that people have the confidence to go and vote and don't feel intimidated. Different things will work best for different people - whether it is going along with a friend or having a leaflet which just explains about how it all works to take along, but we shouldn't assume that everyone who says that they support us when we canvass but never votes is lying - it might be that they want to support us but don't know how.


At 10:45 pm , Blogger Elephunt said...

I always find most people who have lost or thrown away their polling card believe they can't vote without it.This is an increasing problem with the sheer volumer of junk mail people get these days as a lot of people simply throw away anything that isn't,in their opinion, essential I always try and include the information that you do not need your polling card to vote in the last bit of stuff to go out before polling day, or on polling day itself...

At 10:20 pm , Blogger Skuds said...

It brings you down to Earth doesn't it?

As a member of a political party you spend so much time with others who are steeped in the issues and it is so easy to assume eveyone is likewise affected by the subtleties.

It can be a shock after 4 weeks of hard campaigning to find that so many voters aren't even aware there is an election.

My area has turnouts lower than 20% most of the time. In our case turnout has to have a bigger effect on results than any single issue could have.

Our other big issue here is confusion with multiple elections. If a large number of voters are not confident about voting anyway, they are even less sure when faced with an election with two seats. I am sure that many of our voters only vote once when they could vote for two candidates.

Every time a general election or european election is held on the same day as council elections we risk losing council seats we would otherwise hold.

It could be argued, therefore, that we do not have a true democracy, as there is a tendancy towards having a large number of voters self-excluded.


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