Monday, December 10, 2007


Should we Give Voters Money Prizes for Voting?

It seems the Councillor's Commission (set up earlier in the year to examine ways of 'incentivising' voting) has suggested that voters be entered in a special lottery with cash prizes just to reward them for voting. My reaction is an anguished, 'Has it come to this?' one. As readers of this blog might have divined, I think the right to vote- won during a thousand year's evolution of government from absolute monarch to representative democracy- carries with it an absolute obligation to vote, if only to pay respect to the thousands who died or suffered so that we could have the opportunity to throw out our rulers when we choose.

But it seems few share my views and even good, highly intelligent, friends of mine have refused to vote in recent elections on the grounds that they didn't like Tony Blair. In those circumstances I think, rather than stay at home, voters should visit the polling station and spoil their vote- just to show they support the system if not those who seek to control it at the present time. However, I wonder if any of these attempts to hoist up the turnout are worthwhile? They do after all, deal only with the symptom and not the cause.

Yet one point of view suggests we waste our time trying artificially to prime the pump of turnout. Professor Anthony King, of Essex University and Daily Telegraph polls analyst, is sure that if voters had a:

'closely fought election at which a great deal is at stake, and, make no mistake, they will again turnout in droves'(see my Politics UK page 347)

Well, I hope this is correct but the decline set in in 1997 when the great landslide entailed was won on the back of a 71% turnout- well down on the average for the previous two decades; it was the 59% in 2001 which really rang the alarm bells. Was this part of a long term trend or was it a blip caused by a peculiar concatenation of circumstances? Well, the 2005 election managed only to increase it to 62%, which scarcely proves anything. King might say the issues were not sufficiently vital to drag the voters out. Maybe, but I think giving prizes for voting demeans the whole process and would contribute eventually to further decline rather than revival.

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