Page last updated at 22:17 GMT, Tuesday, 24 June 2008 23:17 UK

Weekend voting plans considered

Casting a vote
Could future voting interrupt the weekend football?

Voters may be able to go to the polls at weekends - rather than Thursdays - under plans to encourage more people to take part in elections.

Justice Minister Michael Wills is publishing a consultation document which looks at the merits of moving the traditional polling day.

"We should not be afraid to try a new voting day that fits in better with people's busy lives," he said.

But there are concerns over religious objections and the cost of the move.

The document says that switching polling day to the weekend could be more convenient for people and may result in increased turnout.

Shift work

It argues that the majority of people work on weekdays, with many also balancing family and childcare commitments, working shifts or having long commutes, making Thursday voting difficult.

However, a weekend poll could increase the current 90m cost of holding a general election by between 38m and 58m, the consultation says.

The government wants to make it easier for people to turn up to vote
Michael Wills
Justice Secretary

And a change to some voting on either Saturday or Sunday may raise issues for some people on the grounds of faith.

One option being explored is whether polls should be held on both days to accommodate the needs of Jewish and Christian people - but at an additional cost.

The consultation says countries that hold elections on Sundays generally have up to 6% higher turnouts than those holding weekday polls.

'Obscure' reasons

Mr Wills said: "Decisions are made by those who vote.

"The government wants to make it easier for people to turn up to vote. As part of this process, we want to look at different options for the day on which elections take place.

Rather than fiddling with the day of the election, ministers need to tackle electoral fraud as their first priority
Nick Herbert
Conservatives

"The reason elections are traditionally held on Thursdays is obscure. We should not be afraid to try a new voting day that fits in better with people's busy lives, while also recognising the constraints of money and belief."

But shadow justice secretary Nick Herbert said an "obsession" with electoral modernisation had damaged "confidence in the integrity of the ballot box".

"There is no evidence that weekend voting makes any difference to turnout," he said.

"Rather than fiddling with the day of the election, ministers need to tackle electoral fraud as their first priority."

'Deeply unfair'

And Liberal Democrat justice spokesman David Howarth said: "There are far more important things wrong with the electoral system in Britain than the voting day, such as the deeply unfair first-past-the-post system."

But he said local authorities should not object to weekend voting trials.

The consultation is set to run for 12 weeks and will be followed by a "citizens' summit" later this year.

Ministers will then consider the summit's recommendation along with evidence gathered from the written consultation.

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