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Voter reforms should improve turnout as well as confidence

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LGC’s essential daily briefing.

The alarmingly low 15.1% voter turnout in the 2012 police and crime commissioner elections will live long in the memory of anyone concerned about democracy in the UK.

It will certainly do so at the Department for Communities & Local Government as it gears up towards a major publicity campaign to encourage people to vote in this year’s mayoral elections.

While general election turnouts have been on a slow but steady upward curve since the turn of the century – reaching 66.1% in 2015 – local elections tend to attract just under half the number of voters when run in isolation.

As LGC reports this week, some of Sir Eric Pickles’ recommendations for electoral reform, including the introduction of voter identification at polling stations, run the risk of putting off even more members of an apathetic public from making use of their democratic right.

There have, after all, been mixed results with voter identification across the world.

The Association of Electoral Administrators is concerned that any reforms do not in themselves lead to unintended difficulties for voters, let alone candidates or electoral administrators.

However, there are concerns voter identification impacts more on the poor, the elderly, and minority groups as they are less likely to possess photographic identity documents.

Ensuring electoral administrators are adequately resourced to implement such an initiative so voters can be registered quickly is an equally important issue.

While nobody wants to see a repeat of events in Tower Hamlets in 2014 which resulted in the London borough’s elected mayor Lutfur Rahman (Tower Hamlets First) being ousted, it is important to remember that election fraud in the UK is rare.

Any reforms should aim to improve voter turnout as well as confidence.

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