In 1998 voter turnout in Metropolitan Council elections outside London hit 25.2%. It was the lowest turnout figure in modern times. The approaching Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections now threaten to break that record.
The elections in November will cost a whopping £75m but evidence suggests that we can only hope for a turnout of around 18.5%.
We’ve looked at some of the key drivers of voter turnout. From calling a poll in November, from holding back on any opportunity for candidates to make their case to voters, the government seems to have done everything in its power to keep polling stations empty.
From the start the PCC elections have been marred by controversy and now it seems that the Home Office is shirking its responsibility to provide voters with even the most basic information that the elections are taking place.
The stated purpose of electing Police and Crime Commissioners was to improve accountability and reconnect the public and the police - an aim which is clearly undermined by a painfully low turnout.
The Home Office’s 5 point plan to drive turnout into the ground
- Do not conduct a mail out with information about the elections and the candidates
- Only provide information online so that the 7m people on the electoral roll who don’t regularly access the internet are unlikely to know its happening
- Set up a helpline but don’t activate it until 23 days before the election is due to take place
- Hold the election in November when no other elections are taking place (research shows that winter elections have significantly lower turnout than those held in summer months³)
- Include no provisions for information in accessible formats for people with sight difficulties or in any other languages.
Despite the fact that independence and diversity were proclaimed as important features of PCC candidates, unrealistic eligibility rules mean that strong independent candidates with minor misdemeanours in their teenage years could be excluded. This is in addition to the fact that independent candidates were already hampered by the lack of a funded mail out as unlike party candidates they will have no network of campaigners or party resources behind them to help them reach out to large constituencies.
Conversely an extremely low turnout could unfairly advantage extremist candidates who would never succeed in winning over a bigger proportion of the electorate.
The PCC elections is beginning to look like a perfect storm.
Those pulling the strings have not done their homework and as a result this election looks primed to degenerate into a complete shambles. Put simply, if the people elected to localise decision-making over how our streets are policed, do not represent local people, what is the point of having them?