The Electoral Reform Society is projecting a turnout of just 18.5% in the elections on November 15th for Police and Crime Commissioners. Looking at comparative turnout in Council byelections it believes the proportion of the electorate voting will be 6% down compared to if they had been held in May. This would be a record low – well below the turnout for local elections in 1998 for metropolitan councils which was 25.2%.
Has the ERS asked itself why the elections are being held in November? It was because Nick Clegg wanted to limit the losses of Lib Dem councillors to the Conservatives in the elections that took place on May 3rd. He thought that Conservative supporters would be more motivated than Lib Dems to vote in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections. I think he was probably on to something – it doesn't exactly help that the Lib Dems, supposed champions of localism, are generally not putting up candidates.
Another reason Mr Clegg was so concerned was that in 2011 we had Conservatives motivated to vote No in the AV referendum, and thus also helping the Conservatives to make gains in the local elections the same day. The ERS should remember all about that referendum as they paid for the disastrous Yes campaign.
I think Mr Clegg is right that Conservative voters, as well as supporters from other parties, will take notice of these elections. There is strong concern over crime, and concern that the police could and should do a better job, and have better priorities.
What if Conservatives are disillusioned with the Government? Or Labour supporters are exasperated by their party's soft policy on crime? Even for those disillusioned with political parties, there will be independent candidates. The Top of the Cops website has identified these.
A poll for YouGov found that 28% "will probably vote for a candidate from the political party I normally support" while 26% "will probably vote for an independent candidate." The Supplementary Vote system means that voters can offer a second preference to their favoured political party should they wish to. Given that Conservatives indicated a particular willingness to back independent candidates, the pitch by Conservative candidates for second preferences could make all the difference in some contests.
The most important point about an election is not the weather or the sums spent on advertisements telling us to vote. It is that we believe that voting matters. Electing someone who can sack the chief constable matters.
I predict we are in for a lively election campaign which will capture the interest of the public and see a much higher turnout than the ERS predict. Much higher, come to that than the 23% achieved for the 1999 Euro Elections. Those were the first Euro Elections using proportional representation. The turnout was sharply down on the previous ones in 1994 which used first past the post, with single member constituencies. Thanks a bunch, ERS. If you are concerned about turnout why not campaign for electoral reform to restore first past the post to those elections?