Low turnout is a story in itselfby WestOxon Greens Editor on 11/16/12
by Kate Griffin
Standing outside a polling station all day in the cold is no fun. And it is even less fun when turnout is low. I should know. Back in January 2011, I stood as the Green Party candidate in a by-election for Witney Town Council, an election where everything seemed to conspire to discourage voters.
The election was triggered when Cllr Louise Chapman was thrown off the town council for failing to attend enough meetings. Chapman's Conservative colleagues felt that holding an election to replace her was a waste of money when the May elections were four months away, and they showed their disapproval by choosing not to put a candidate forward. That meant that Conservative voters in East Witney had no candidate to vote for.
Secondly, the district council felt that it was a waste of money to distribute polling cards, or to spend any of its budget on publicising the election. So it did not.
Thirdly, the Witney Gazette helpfully printed the date of the election as Friday 7th January rather than Thursday 6th!
Last but not least, it was a chilly, grey day in the first week of the New Year, a time where many people are feeling the post-Christmas comedown and wondering how to handle the first week back at work.
The turnout for that election? 12.66%. Interesting to see how it compares to local turnout in today's Police & Crime Commissioner election: 13.2%. That's right, the difference in turnout between my tiny by-election and the much-publicised PCC election was less than one percentage point.
The low turnout this time wasn't down to West Oxfordshire residents not knowing about the election. It was because people didn't want the election. The number of spoiled ballots in the West Oxfordshire poll tells a story too: 403 rejected ballots, making nearly 4% of the total. (In Oxford City it was even higher.)
Having elected Police & Crime Commissioners was supposed to be a move towards greater democracy. But the glaringly obvious point being missed is that we weren't asked if we wanted them. Today's low turnout and spoiled ballot papers send a message: if they had asked us, the answer would have been no. We would rather have spent the estimated 75 million on something more worthwhile.