The Day After The Count

My new rules for a better election system.

I think the STV system used in Scotland is good even if it does require a computer to do the count, but here’s the next set of thoughts:

If you don't vote, you don't get to complain

One: The local authority in which you live is legally obliged to make sure that everyone who is entitled to vote is registered to vote, and special arrangements must be made for all those who would find it difficult to have a polling card delivered or to get to a polling station. Non-registration of those eligible makes the local authority subject to prosecution.

Two: Everyone is legally required to vote in the first election for which they are eligible.

The age-gap is even starker: the young are getting massively outgunned by the burgeoning grey vote, with 76 per cent of those aged over 65 voting in 2010, compared to just 44 per cent of 18-24 year olds. This gap between the voting power of the young and old has grown steadily over time. Worse still, there is now clear evidence of a generation effect: that is those that don’t vote when they’re young are now less likely than previous generation to develop the habit of voting as they move into middle age. (From The Case For Compulsory Voting)

Three: The penalty for not voting when you are legally required to do so (if there’s no adequate excuse, such as sudden illness or accident affecting yourself or a close family member) is a fine of the size that AB-type people tend to speak of as “small”. Fines for not voting do not apply if the election has been declared “None of the Above”.

[In a comment below it’s suggested that instead of a fine, everyone who votes gets £50 cash at the ballot box. This is a surprisingly good idea: it would increase turnout, it would be an excellent helicopter money stimulus, it would be a positive incentive to vote instead of a negative one, and it would more strongly encourage people to make the time to vote the less well-off they were.]

Electoral participation is falling fastest among the young and the least affluent. According to Mori at the last general election, 76 per cent of voters from the top social class (AB) voted, whereas just 57 per cent of voters in the bottom social class (DE) did. This social-class gap has tripled since 1992, suggesting that the political voice of the well-off remains strong, as that of the poor gets weaker. (From The Case For Compulsory Voting)

Four: In any election, all ballots for those legally required to vote must have the option of ticking “None of the Above”. In any election where the first-preference votes received by “None of the Above” makes quota in the first round of the count, the election for that ward or constituency is cancelled and must be run again four weeks later with none of the candidates who stood last time allowed to stand again in that ward or constitutency for one electoral cycle plus three weeks.

At the 4-weeks-later election, everyone is legally required to vote. This can repeat until the candidates who stand are found to be acceptable for office by the electorate. Anyone who has a problem with this shouldn’t really live in a democracy.

XKCD: Elections

Six: While no one can be legally required to vote except at the “None of the Above” 4-weeks-later elections and in their first eligible election, any election in which fewer than 51% of those eligible to vote do so, is treated as a “None of the Above” election and cancelled to re-run 4 weeks later with a different set of candidates.

There, I think that fixes our latest problems.

No worries, feng shui kitten fix it

Off to the May Day march now. Photographs later.


Filed under Elections, Feng Shui Kitten Fixes Stuff

15 responses to “The Day After The Count

  1. Agreed on all points. I would broaden excuses for not voting a tad (professional commitments, or travel outside the country); and more importantly I would also schedule all elections for the weekend. NB that there are four European countries holding elections tomorrow (France, Greece, Serbia and Armenia).

    • Most professional commitments or travel outside the country are known in advance. But agree any reasonable excuse for not being able to vote should be accepted – and employers should allow people reasonable time off to vote.

  2. Don’t fine people for not voting; increase everyone’s taxes and then hand out £50 notes at the polling station. People react better to positive inducements than to negative ones.

  3. Marsha Scott

    From Bella Caledonia blog (

    Riddoch again: “Remoteness and loss of power have prompted low turnout – not reversed by the advent of PR in Scottish council elections. As Paddy Bort, of Edinburgh’s Centre for Governance, argues in Scottish Left Review, looking round Europe, there’s a pattern. Councils in Scotland raise 20 per cent of their budgets and have turnouts of 30-50 per cent. French councils raise half their budgets, and have turnouts of 50-60 per cent. In Switzerland 85 per cent of revenue is raised locally and turnout is 90 per cent.”

    I think we might better pursue a strategy of devolving financial decision making if we want to see voters linking their votes with what matters to them.

    • Making voting compulsory shouldn’t be about punishing voters for not voting but about making the vote a civic obligation, not a privilege – and ensuring a government is elected from the views of all the people, not with the present skew towards older/wealthier – and with our present inability as voters to tell the parties they’ve picked poor candidates.

  4. 1.”Anyone who has a problem with this shouldn’t really live in a democracy.”
    We don’t, we haven’t for years. Government has ultimate power and exercise it to keep it.
    2. Forcing ordinary people to vote won’t make them more engaged, just militant. A recipe for anarchy.
    3. Growing political disenchantment among what are termed the ‘bottom social classes’ is not accidental. It’s been fostered since the end of WWII as a means of keeping them in their place. Our latest government has become expert in this, so good in fact, the Proles don’t even know it’s happening.
    4. Changing the way we vote, would to my mind, be the political equivalent of moving the chairs on the Titanic. Unless or until there is a seed change in our vested interest ridden political system, nought will improve.

    • Thanks for your comment.

    • liberaliser

      Brought here by Nicholas, above.
      2. Yeah, Belgium is teeming with militants and teetering on the brink of Anarchageddon. Scary place.
      Srsly, though, I loved these proposals – a bittersweet pleasure, as I have little-to-no hope of living to see (most of) them implemented.
      Which would be easier to get: a more equitable political culture or a more equitable constitution? This is a serious question; my instinct says change the system, but I’ve no idea how much real impact that would have. Obviously cleverly-written rules do not by themselves make a democracy, but how much would they help?

      • Yeah, Belgium is teeming with militants and teetering on the brink of Anarchageddon. Scary place.

        *nods nods* Belgium is very scary if you’re a politician. No government for 18 months, and everything just went on as usual….

        Which would be easier to get: a more equitable political culture or a more equitable constitution?

        We’re not going to get any voting reform for another 30 years, thanks to the “No to AV” vote last year. I want to believe that, if nothing else, independence from the steadily-rightward movement down south would lead to a more equitable political culture – Scotland already has a more equitable constitution – but I think I’m just fooling myself mostly…

  5. Pingback: What You Can Get Away With (Nick Barlow's blog) » Blog Archive » Worth Reading 50: One L of a good time

  6. juliusbeezer

    The authoritarian measures you outline are hardly the answer to the UK’s democratic problems (House of Lords?! ffs!). I agree with you that all ballots should have a “reopen nominations” option (and a process for recalling politicians whilst in office).
    Rather than trying to shore up 19th century institutions with punitive measures, why not take a look at the Pirate Party’s Liquid Democracy?

    • Authoritarian? Hm. By which you mean making people vote?

      The main problem I have with making people vote is that if you do not care for any of the candidates your only option is to spoil the ballot – which is counted, but has no effect. Hence the possibility for endless reruns if the electorate just can’t fancy any of the people the parties keep putting up.

      The “rerun election with a different set of candidates” will never get through a party political system, simply because it does give the voters an effective veto on the candidates chosen by the party. I think an effective recall triggered by voter displeasure will never happen in the UK either: it happens in the US because both Democrats and Republicans can find a way of using it against the other party.

      We have no House of Lords in Scottish government – we have no second chamber at all – and the House of Lords does not affect government at the local level anywhere in the UK. We still have democratic parties.

      The Pirate Party stood a candidate in the local elections – you can see how they did here. Their own optimistic gloss is really unjustified – 195 (1.87%) first preferences is above average for a no-hoper candidate. (triple digits at least!) but as Peter Maxwell pointed out, their national-level policies didn’t scale down to a local level. Having a hope of winning a seat seems to require at least 10% in first preferences.

      • juliusbeezer

        You seem surprised to labelled an authoritarian. Let me explain.
        There will certainly be people of conscience with well founded reasons for their refusal to participate. They will, if they have the courage of their convictions, also refuse the fine. Which means they will be imprisoned. Is that really what you want?
        In France, where voting is a citizen’s republican duty, the turnout in the presidential election is normally more than 80%. But there are no legal sanctions for not voting.
        You seem to want to shortcut the work of building a culture, an education system, a political settlement, that achieves the same result. But there are no shortcuts. It is tempting, but wrong, to imagine the legal system is a good way of getting people to change their behaviour: the law is a backstop, not an instruction manual.

        • Not being authoritarian, I obviously don’t support people going to jail for non-payment of fines. So there you go.

          “There will certainly be people of conscience with well founded reasons for their refusal to participate. “

          I’m actually not sure what well-founded reason a person of conscience would have for not wanting to go to a voting booth and write on the ballot form “I refuse to participate in this!” unless the election is being run by ATOS.

          Note that the rules allow that if at least 49% of the electorate decline to participate, there is no fine.

          You seem to want to shortcut the work of building a culture, an education system, a political settlement, that achieves the same result.

          D’oh! It’s a blog post.

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