On 15 November 2012 English and Welsh voters went to the polls to elect the first Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs). As we anticipated the election saw the lowest turnout in peacetime history with only 15.1% of voters turning out.
The Home Office stated a desire to “empower the public - increasing local accountability and giving the public a direct say on how their streets are policed”. Unfortunately on 15 November 2012 less than 1 in 5 members of the public chose to take up this opportunity.
From the start, the PCC elections looked set to be an exercise in how not to run an election.
The date of the election was moved from May to November creating the first barrier to voters turning out. Voters were then left in the dark about who they could vote for with a lack of centrally provided candidate information.
Candidates were kept away by huge deposits, unclear eligibility rules, vast electoral districts and high campaign costs. The Electoral Reform Society predicted these factors could add up to extremely low turnout Unfortunately we were proved right.
Our new report sets out the problems leading up to and including polling day on 15 November 2012.
The Government has not conceded that errors were made. There was no shortage of warnings: from us; from candidates; from the independent Electoral Commission. Yet all were ignored. One government minister even insisted the “carping” about the elections was just a “silly season story”.
The publicity that highlighted the extent of the failures of the elections had the benefit of being so widespread that at least voters came to know about the new office, even if for many it was after the ballot boxes had been emptied.
However, polling shows that any awareness of who had been elected did not last that long. In fact, although the turnout of 15% was considered dismal by everyone (apart from the Government), it seems that even fewer people than actually voted can name their local PCC.
A poll, conducted by Populus in the last week of January 2013, showed that only 11% of respondents could correctly name the person elected for their area. In other words, after spending £75 million holding the elections and millions more to staff and resource officeholders, nearly 90% of Britons have no idea who their elected police and crime commissioner is. Government mismanagement has handed our elected Commissioners a poisoned chalice, and it remains unclear how they can overcome it.
The Police and Crime Commissioner vote failed both candidates and voters alike. There are lessons to be learnt which we want to see implemented for the next PCC election:
- Never hold another election in the winter months which discourages people from turning out
- Never leave voters in the dark about who or what they are voting for - ensure information on candidates is provided in mailings to voters.
- Ensure a level playing field for candidates through well-designed election rules.
How not to run an election: The Police and Crime Commissioner Elections 2012 by Jess Garland and Chris Terry, is available for download here…