8 Conclusion |
187. A significant reason for low levels of engagement
with elections in the UK is broader dissatisfaction with the UK's
political culture. This cannot be resolved by moving elections
to the weekend, or making it possible for people to vote on their
mobile phone. Many witnesses have argued that, although certain
specific proposals will have a positive effect on registration
rates and levels of voter turnout, the broader question of voter
engagement requires a deeper and more long-term response.
Will Brett, Head of Media at the Electoral Reform Society,
We need a combination of public policy, institutional
reform and cultural change, all driven by a relentless focus on
what will re-engage the public in politics.
Similarly, the Association of Electoral Administrators
voter turnout is largely a political matter and
that logistical or administrative changes are unlikely to have
a significant effect on increasing turnout.
Unlock Democracy stated:
Low turnout is fundamentally a political, not
an administrative problem. If voters do not believe that their
vote will make a difference, or that there is a genuine choice,
they will continue to shun the ballot box. The remedy for low
turnout must be a serious programme of political reform designed
to reconnect politics with the electorate.
Sheffield for Democracy stated that there was no
"silver bullet" solution to the current issues around
voter engagement and broader political engagement, but that the
central issue was one of trustin the electoral system,
in parties and in politicians.
188. The recent referendum on independence for Scotland,
where turnout was 84.6%,
showed that there is clearly scope for greater levels of participation
at the polls. The Electoral Commission noted the significance
of the referendum in a written submission to us, which stated:
"as we have seen in Scotland, when voters are enthused by
an issue or campaign, they retain the capacity to turnout and
engage in the electoral process in record numbers."
This is a lesson that needs to be applied to other elections if
voter engagement is to improve.
189. When we spoke to the Minister for the Constitution
about what needed to be done to improve voter engagement, he told
In my view, government, politicians, electoral
administrators and civil society all have a role to play in engaging
people in our democracy. As the Government specifically, I see
the responsibility as ensuring that the structures and mechanisms
are in place to enable people to participate in the democratic
process. We are committed to ensuring that everyone who is eligible
to do so has the opportunity to register to vote. 
He went on to say:
There is no one quick fix. If there was we would
have implemented this already. That is why our plan to engage
voters involves politicians and civil society organisations but
also involves organisations like UK Youth and Scotland Youth who
have a national reach and can engage young people, not to mention
some other innovative organisations like Bite the Ballot
who we have been working with. So there is no quick fix to this.
You are absolutely right to say that in a democracy as old as
ours we should be expecting higher levels of voter engagement
and participation, and it is incumbent on all of us to make sure
that we help deal with it.
190. We have outlined a number of proposals that
we believe could have a positive effect on voter engagement, in
terms of both registration rates and turnout at elections, but
there is no single change that will suddenly re-engage the electorate.
The problem of low voter engagement is to a large extent a manifestation
of broader political disengagement and dissatisfaction with politics
in the UK. The recent referendum on independence for Scotland,
where 84.5% of the registered electorate turned out, shows that
people will vote if they are engaged and believe their vote will
contribute to making a difference, but substantial cultural and
structural changes are necessary to convince the public that registering
to vote and participating at other elections is worthwhile. This
work must go hand in hand with renewing the public's faith in
the UK's political institutions. This is a task that requires
the support of political parties, individual politicians, electoral
administrators and the Government. On the broader issues there
may also be scope for the establishment of a new forumsuch
as a Commission for Democracyspecifically to address these
issues over the long term.
191. Political parties, individual politicians
and the Government must take action to re-engage the electorate.
We call on each political party to include plans in its manifesto
for the 2015 general election for improving voter engagementin
terms of voter registration and turnoutas well as how they
will work to rebuild the trust of the public in politics more
broadly. Specific proposals that should be considered for inclusion
in party manifestos include:
civic and legal duty of all citizens to register to vote
to vote closer up to or on the day of an election
· Online voting
or weekend voting, or a public holiday for voting
the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds
192. With the date of the next, and future elections,
set out in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, it is possible
for the Government and other political parties to consider what
plans they wish to make in this area and consult with the Civil
Service on them so they are ready for implementation immediately
after the general election.
193. Throughout this inquiry we have made a particular
effort to take into account the views of the public, and the evidence
we have received from individual members of the public. It is
now for the public to dictate to the parties what changes they
expect to be implemented after the next general election. This
should be done throughout the election period andcruciallyat
the ballot box.
421 Written evidence from Professor Matt Flinders [VUK 06] Back
Q107 [Will Brett] Back
Written evidence from the Association of Electoral Administrators
[VUK 32] Back
Written evidence from Unlock Democracy [VUK 18] Back
Written evidence from Sheffield for Democracy [VUK 93] Back
Scottish independence referendum, Electoral Management Board for
Written evidence from the Electoral Commission [VUK 156] Back
Q793 [Sam Gyimah MP] Back
Q805 [Sam Gyimah MP] Back