Is compulsory voting Blair’s secret weapon?

Is compulsory voting Blair’s secret weapon?


    Will imposing fines on non-voters ensure that Labour stays in power?

To Labour officials the party’s supporters must be exasperating. For there’s a big gap between the number who say they support the party and those that actually vote. If some means of boosting turnout can be found, they believe, then Labour’s grip on power could be even stronger than it is at the moment.

Labour’s Plan A was to make voting easier. Making postal voting available to everybody seemed to provide the solution – except it didn’t. This was because the process of filling in and having witnessed the forms and then putting them in the correct envelopes was quite daunting for many electors even after Labour had eased the rules. So the machines of all the parties got involved with “helping” postal voters and it was no wonder that scandals like that in Birmingham happened.

In another move Labour tried all postal voting so that you could not cast your ballot in any other way. This allowed a simplified return process and was used in many areas in last year’s Euro election. But this ran into problems with the Electoral Commission when it was slammed because it was open to abuse. The problem is that if you simplify the process too much you are wide open to fraud and the whole voting system comes into disrepute.

Labour’s Plan B is compulsory voting – the thinking being that if the carrot does not work then use the stick. The idea was floated by Geoff Hoon in the same week as the first London bombs went off. The idea is that if people fail to vote they get fined. Looking at what Hoon said there can be little doubt that this is being seriously considered. If the party wants to be certain of continued power then some means has to be devised that gets its idle supporters to vote.

And if non-voters think they can get away with this by not registering on the electoral roll ministers have thought of that. As the Guardian reports today the Government is considering introducing automatic voter registration for all council tax payers. But any measure that extends the electoral register without compulsory voting is likely to produce lower turnout percentages.

    Should a party that got just 35% of the national vote in May be allowed to change the rules for its own electoral advantage?

Will this be ready for the next General Election and if so what would be the impact? It looks as though there will be some interesting battles ahead.

Mike Smithson

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