Playing pass the parcel on turnout

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 26th July 2012

On May 3 2012 Scotland went to the polls. We’d like to tell you precisely how many Scots actually went to vote, but the honest answer is we can’t.

And that’s because no one knows precisely what voter turnout was.

Since the May elections Scotland’s local and national authorities have been playing pass the parcel on turnout. And given their inability to publish basic data we’ve attempted to work it ourselves.

Based on available sources we can tell you turnout across Scotland’s 32 local authorities was approximately 39.7%.

Turnout figures aren’t just about wonks having something to play about with on their slide rules. This is about the health of our democracy. 

The last time Scotland held a Local Government election without a parliamentary election on the same day was back in 1995, and turnout was at 44.9%.  2012 represents a clear fall from that election, though much higher than the 31% who turned out for English locals this year.

Election turnout figures are fundamental for monitoring the health of any democracy, and in Scotland we haven’t even agreed how to measure it.

As we tried to piece together the data ourselves we discovered huge inconsistencies in how individual councils measure public engagement.

It really shouldn’t be this hard. There are nearly 50,000 civil servants working in Scotland, the Scottish government has a budget of over £10 billion.

The Scottish Government and the Electoral Management Board must work to improve the consistency of reporting across councils and publish an agreed methodology.

Only then will we know for sure who’s turning out and who’s turning off from our democracy.

ERS Scotland has just launched Democracy-Max, a year long enquiry into the health of Scottish democracy.

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