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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 02:09 GMT
Ministers 'complacent over turnout'
polling card
Voter turnout was only 59% in the general election
The government is being complacent about the "civic crisis" of collapsing voter turnout, according to MPs.

The Commons Public Administration Select Committee says a Democracy Commission should be set up urgently to look at how to tackle the problem.


The situation has changed dramatically in the last few months as the crisis in public participation has deepened

Select committee
Turnout in the June election was the lowest since 1918, with fewer than 60 percent of the electorate voting.

That was despite hopes that making it easier to cast postal votes would boost voting levels.

The MPs' criticism, made in a report published on Wednesday, comes despite government assurances that it was taking action to boost voter participation.

'Dramatic change'

But the committee say: "The situation has changed dramatically in the last few months as the crisis in public participation has deepened."

Postal voting
Postal voting failed to boost turnout
That problem is summed up by one figure, argue the MPs - the 59% turnout seen in June.

"The reasons for it may be debated, but not its seriousness for our democracy.

"We find it extraordinary that this collapse in electoral participation, put alongside other evidence of civic disengagement, has not been treated as a civic crisis demanding an immediate response."

The MPs criticise the government for not setting targets for setting up new measures to counter the problem, such as increased use of the internet.

'Complacency'

They accuse the government of being "extremely complacent" in not taking more urgent measures to work alongside organisations such as local councils in spreading good practice.

The report comes in the month when political interest will be put to the test again in Ipswich, where a by-election is being held on 22 November.

The Electoral Commission, which monitors UK elections, has stressed that responsibility for tackling voter apathy lies primarily with politicians.

Recommendations

But in a report released in July, the commission recommended ways of making voting easier.

Those included:

  • Voting over the internet or by phone

  • Polling over several days

  • Better funding and training for those organising polls

  • Making registering to vote easier

    Politicians from all the main parties have expressed their concern about the low turnout seen in June.

    Earlier this year Liberal Democrat peer Lord Jenkins of Hillhead pressed Tony Blair to introduce a new voting system in an effort to counter what he called the almost "disastrous" turnout.

    Lord Jenkins wrote a report for the government recommending the UK move to Alternative Vote Plus elections instead of the first past the post system.

    Under his favoured scheme, voters number candidates according to preference.

  • See also:

    31 Aug 01 | UK Politics
    US-style ads could tackle turnout
    08 Aug 01 | UK Politics
    Low turnout cut Labour's landslide
    24 Jul 01 | UK Politics
    Report tackles voter apathy
    24 Jul 01 | UK Politics
    Voters 'ignored e-election'
    26 Jun 01 | UK Politics
    Jenkins urges voting reform
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