Do we need to tighten voting procedures?

Turnout at yesterday’s local elections is estimated to be about 32 per cent, the lowest for twelve years.  The danger is that this may further encourage demands to make it easier to vote.  We have already introduced procedures to make it easier to cast ballots, not least through postal voting on demand.   Though measures are being taken to prevent fraud, I am not persuaded these are enough and, in any event, I am not sure that making it easier to vote tackles the problem it is designed to address.  There is little evidence that non-voting is a result of the procedures for voting.  If people felt sufficiently motivated to vote, they would vote.  The answer lies with the behaviour and policies of politicians, not with structures and procedures.

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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22 Responses to Do we need to tighten voting procedures?

  1. Dean B says:

    “The answer lies with the behaviour and policies of politicians, not with structures and procedures.”
    Completely agree, and the exact same thing is the answer to calls for PR/AV etc.
    And even expenses reform.
    My question is do you think this attitudinal change will happen? Are there any initiatives in place? Is it recognised in Westminster that change needs to take place? Do politicians recognise how damaging it is, every single time they evade questions, dissemble and break pledges?
    I also think that the media share a lot of blame – these council elections have, as usual, been entirely reported as though they are a national opinion poll, with no mention of libraries, bin collections or double yellow lines.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Dean B: I think we can see something of a change of attitude already among MPs, especially of the new intake, but there is still some way to go to ensure politicians stop engaging in a form of comfort displacement, claiming that the problem is not to do with them but with structures.

  2. Croft says:

    Personally I’d abolish postal voting unless you are over 75 or disabled. It really is not difficult to get to the polling station and it limits a major opportunity for fraud.

    It seems to me the electoral commission needs a serious shake up to restore faith.

    • D F Rostron says:

      Not quite correct, I am 240 miles and one ferry journey from where I vote. But I agree most people are within walking distance.

    • ladytizzy says:

      An excerpt from The Guardian’s recent interview with George Galloway:

      “For example, he is frequently portrayed as a rogue for whom the ends always justify the means – but despite winning 75% of the postal vote in Bradford West, he is campaigning for postal voting to be banned.

      “We are totally against postal voting on demand. Postal votes used to be something you got when you literally could not get to the polls; now they’re available on demand and, once granted, are yours for ever. So large numbers of postal votes are delivered to places where the person no longer is. Large numbers of them are collected, unfilled-in, by these biradari chiefs,” an Urdu word meaning clan seniors. “It’s a kind of ritual that they bring votes to the candidate to show them: “Look, I’m bringing in 20 votes; that’s 20 votes for you – I’m bringing that in.'” How can he be so sure?

      “Well, I know it because they offered to do it to me. Yeah, and I said: ‘I don’t want to see anybody’s vote, and I don’t want you to see anybody’s vote.’ Now, I don’t know that they filled them in, rather than the voter, but it’s a fair inference; it’s a fair inference if someone has got 20 votes in their pocket to take to the town hall, that they were either visibly observing the person filling the vote in – which is wrong, and I think illegal – or filled them in themselves. This happens in Asian areas on a widespread basis, and it is the antithesis of democracy.” Does he think some of his own votes came that way? “It’s possible, because people offered to show me other people’s votes. So I redouble my call for postal voting on demand to be scrapped.””
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/apr/29/george-galloway-interview-bradford-west

    • Lord Norton says:

      Croft: I would allow for those who may not be able to get to the polling station in a particular election and can provide evidence of that, but I share your general approach.

      I don’t see why we cannot also utilise the same practice as the French, which is to require electors to sign when they have voted. The practice does not seem to have deterred voters from going to the polls in the presidential elections.

      • Croft says:

        I’m not clear what exactly you think signing will do insofar as the main/easiest area for fraud is identified as postal and the signature is already included?

      • Lord Norton says:

        Croft: It follows from cutting down on postal voting, which is the principal but not exclusive area for fraud; voters who then go to the polls should sign on receipt of the ballot paper.

      • Croft says:

        I still don’t follow. Unless you are saying we should all have a signature on file at the polling station which should be verified before we can vote I can’t see it stops fraud.

      • Lord Norton says:

        Croft: With the move to individual registration, one can have a signature on the registration form and then have the voter sign at the polling station. That should act as some deterrent to personation. An alternative would be to produce some document to prove one’s identity.

      • Croft says:

        “one can have a signature on the registration form and then have the voter sign at the polling station.”

        But unless the signature is checked at the polling station I don’t see how it can deter since no one would be checking they match? Checking later on a random basis might detect the problem but only so late as to make catching the impersonator impossible.

      • Lord Norton says:

        Croft: It’s the same methodology as employed in invigilating university examinations. Students have to sign the attendance slips even though invigilators do not have the students’ signatures to hand.

  3. maude elwes says:

    You really have to start getting your thoughts in order, both parties. This is the result of chronyism. Your party is filled by those who have rarely seen the outside world.

    Have you listened to the pundits? What utter rubbish they talk. They simply do not have a grasp on the publics disgust at all.

    Politicians who flatly refuse to face the truth of why their party is failing abysmally will be redundant. Example: Cons: We really have to take into account far more of what our right wing are telling us on Europe. Because of a swing of 6% to UKIP across the country. It doesn’t register with you that the people, in the main, have voted in force for Labour, not UKIP. Labour is in the main ‘pro Europe.’ You’d have to laugh if it wasn’t so sad.

    The Tories have lost the message. People didn’t vote because you broke promises and centred on tripe instead. You didn’t cut Immigration or stop Immigration both from outside or inside it. Stop pretending you couldn’t because you signed the Lisbon Treaty. Most people who vote know this is nonsense. You didn’t end the political correctness idiocy, instead you grabbed it with both hands, Gay Marriage, all female short lists, and so on. Trying, like the party thrown out at the last general election, to manipulate the people into the lunacy of voting for those not up to the job. You promised you would not privateise the NHS and you have in large degree and advertise the day before elections. Cambridge and the private take over earning themselves £2m off the top. You promised you were no longer the ‘nasty’ party and yet you take the disabled, poor and elderly to the cleaners, whilst you cut taxes for the rich. When they pay no bloody taxes anyway. Remember their accountants are very good at it.

    You didn’t sort out the banks and fix their wagons. Your PC MP’s declared sorrow for Murdoch a couple of days before the elections. You bannish British people to end up in Texan jail but hang on to those who immigrate here to create turmoil. You constantly refer to our poor as welfare cheats and scoundrels, whilst you in government rob the expenses and then let yourself off lightly.

    I could go on all night. But stop and think for goodness sake. Get rid of your hangers on and those who lobby for their own benefit. We, the public, have not got a man to vote for. We are without leadership of the kind we respect. You ignore us at your peril. You mislead and have no vision of where you want to take the country exept to join your friends across the pond. You keep us in a ridiculous war you know we can’t win. And you simply will not tell us the truth on globalisation and multiculturalism. You have made us second class citizen in our own country, and deny it. Labour didn’t do this alone, they had back up from all of Parliament to do so.

    As I have been trying to tell you for some months now.

    The public are very angry. Which is why Galloway took Bradford the way he did. The people are looking for an alternative to all three parties. And that is going to grow dramatically the way you are going at it. You listen too much to vested interest instead of those who will keep you in office.

  4. Mrs Wheldale England says:

    I agree. For the first time ever I didn’t vote as a protest because there was nobody I wanted to vote for. My choices were parties whose policies I didn’t agree with or parties I would support but who have shown themselves incapable of enforcing their policies when given the chance. Being in this position saddens me greatly as I believe in the importance of participation but I couldn’t bring myself to stand in that booth and face this depressing reality.

    I want to see sincerity from politicians. I want them to put aside the media training and focus groups and actually speak to people normally. Every time I watch politicians on TV these days I feel like I’m watching one of the presenters from Cbeebies pretending to be really enthusiastic about learning colours or what’s happening in Balamory today. Patronisingly bad acting. Also an end please to the constant bickering and point scoring. Not just in the house but in the media too. Tell me what you stand for and care about instead of constant attacks on the other bloke.

  5. Chris K says:

    I’m not at all surprised that people don’t bother to vote for a bunch of people, wearing different coloured rosettes, but who do things exactly the same way.

    They’re all dependent on money from central government. If they don’t spend it all on something (anything!), they feel as though they’ve failed. So they spend it on rubbish like idiotic road schemes.

    There’s no incentive for them to be more efficient or to do less for more. So they become bloated and whinge and threaten to cut core services when the government doesn’t give them quite as much money as they want.

    Perhaps it’s time for councils to raise their own revenue through local sales tax or something?

    While the extent of postal voting should be worrying, the result means so little anyway that I can’t believe enough people would actually care enough to bother voting fraudulantly anyway…

  6. ladytizzy says:

    “The answer lies with the behaviour and policies of politicians, not with structures and procedures.”

    The Labour and Conservative parties both have made significant changes to their internal structures over time, presumably in response to party member or public grumblings, but membership numbers continue downwards as the public continue to moan (with a fair amount of justification). I would hazard a guess that other political parties have not had to make such big changes due to their size and age, and the public tend to lump all politicians together regardless of allegiance.

    The press must accept their share of blame, who continue to print their grievances as the Leveson inquiry proceeds. While recognising that no politician wishes to strangle them with statutory regulation, as a member of the public I wouldn’t mind at least a glimpse of backbone. Media intrusion must rank as one of the top reasons for those considering standing to put their talents to use elsewhere. That is not to say that the public should not be informed about candidates but lines must be solidly drawn – the Royal family have finally managed to get the balance right, why not politicians?

    More controversially, the salary for all those elected should be massively hiked, in part to reflect the short-term nature of their contract with their electors. In tandem, the situations with expenses, second, third, or more, incomes, and publicly funded and grace and favour housing need a proper sort out, not the half-cocked reactive reviews that leave nobody happy.

    Another concern is the recent issue of straight-to-jail miscreants: what on earth is going on with those charged to oversee the Codes of Conduct etc? Although the defunct Standards for England was a bit rubbish it at least existed in principle, and afforded some protection for newbies against the bullies. Since local government is a popular source of parliamentary candidates, it is surprising that less rather than more is being done to ensure councils are entirely free from bad practices.

    On a darker note, is this all part of the decline of the western civilisation?

  7. ladytizzy says:

    Meanwhile, the disenfranchisement of ex-pats after 15 years living abroad: noting that Mr Mark Harper said that the Government were “considering” the issue back in October, surely this is the sort of thing that the Tories should be falling over themselves to put into one of the many constitutional reforms on their books? With five million British ex-pats (and counting) around the world this, too, is in need of a complete overhaul – it’s probably reasonable not expect it to feature on a Labour agenda.

    Furthermore, how is it fair that an ex-pat pensioner resident in, say, the EU, America, or Israel is entitled to a standard pension that rises with inflation yet those in Australia or Canada, for example, have their pensions permanently frozen from the moment their entitlement coincides with their ex-pat status? The Queen is still Head of State over there, for heaven’s sake.

    • maudie33 says:

      You are certainly right about that. LT. Why the US and Israel feature in our decision making regarding ex pats at all is an enigma to me. They are not European or of the Commonwealth. And the Commonwealth is redundant.

      We should be centering on our duty toward our tax payers within Europe, and those who decide to take up residence outside of it must consider their status in their choice before making the move in the first place.

      We, in Europe, pay enormous tax to enable us to have a decent standard of living within it. How we can also be expected to support those who cling on whilst paying their tax elsewhere and owing their allegiance elsewhere is a lunacy that is out of all proportion.

      Israels connection to the US is nothing whatsoever to do with the UK or Europe and those who want to take up residence in those countries, on a permanent basis, must accept they are no longer European and of no responsibility to the ongoing tax payers who reside within it.

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