U.K. Urged to Overhaul Election Arrangements to Boost Turnout

The U.K. should overhaul its voting arrangements to increase participation in general elections, a panel of lawmakers said.

Turnout for the 2010 election was only 65 percent, meaning close to 16 million registered voters did not take part, while millions more were not even registered, the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee said in a report Thursday.

“If we do not take urgent action to make elections more accessible to the public and convince them that it is worth voting we will be facing a crisis of democratic engagement,” Graham Allen, the Labour lawmaker who’s chairman of the cross-party committee, said in an e-mail. “It is now for the political parties and next Parliament to take forward this work and re-engage the electorate, so that participation at future elections is much higher.”

The government should step up efforts to encourage young people, Britons overseas and the disabled to vote and consider making voter registration automatic, the panel said. Online voting, registration on the day of polling and holding elections at weekends should be piloted during the next Parliament so changes are in place by the 2020 election, it said.

Lowering the voting age to 16 or 17 from 18 should also be researched and debated after this year’s election, said the panel, which drew on more than 16,000 responses to a consultation exercise. Sixteen year-olds were allowed to vote in the Scottish independence referendum last year.

“The fact that almost 85 percent of people turned out for the recent referendum on Scottish independence shows that people will turn out if they care about an issue and believe they can make a difference,” Allen said. “This lesson needs to be learnt and applied to all other elections.”

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