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Posted by : Jonny Brighton Sunday, 30 November 2014

My own take on a real ballot paper. (You can find it full-size on the Facebook page)
Turnout in May 2014 local council elections: 35.7%
Turnout in London Mayoral elections 2012: 31.0%
Turnout in UK Parliamentary elections 2010: 65.1%
(Courtesy of electoralcommission.org)
Turnout in 2013 Australian general election: 93.23% (usually fluctuates between 96% and 93%)

And yet they call us a ‘representative democracy’. From the figures we see above, the government is currently only representative of 65.1% of the public (I personally believe it’s representative of 0% of the public, considering no one voted for a coalition, but that’s another blog…), with local councils being even worse. However this is not wholly their fault, in fact the worst part is it’s technically the fault of the public – officials in power simply capitalise on whatever support they get, and take it as their sovereignty.

It is unfair to compare turnout rates in the UK to turnout rates in Australia, predominantly due to Australia’s system of compulsory voting; if you don’t vote you are asked to give a reason why, and if the reason is deemed insufficient you may be fined up to $170 – quite a good way to whip people into voting. However the most important part of this system of voting is the inclusion of a ‘none of the above’ option. This gives the public who are not enticed by any party standing in the election, or those who are adverse to the concept of sovereign rule completely to express their views without having to spoil their ballots, protest vote, or simply not turn up.

The inclusion of both compulsory voting and the ‘none of the above’ option would increase participation in elections in the UK substantially, and hopefully (as a by-product) increase interest and knowledge in politics. Most importantly, it would make our democracy that we clutch so dearly to work slightly better – no longer would people who hadn’t turned out to vote, yet still insist on critiquing the government because of stories they’ve heard from the media of which they actually have no idea about, be accused by people like me of having invalid arguments because they didn’t actually try to impact the election that put the government they so hate into power in the first place. (Of course, people like me would still accuse them of having little knowledge of the things they are pretending to be experts in, thus their arguments remain invalid, but hopefully having compulsory voting might entice people to actually take an active interest in politics). And governments might actually be able to call themselves sovereign, or accountable, due to the almost total participation of everyone making a decision on what they want.

However, I would take the ‘none of the above’ option slightly further, and treat it as if it were an actual candidate. If the option has the most support in a constituency (in a general election), that constituency would be subject to another election, until a winner other than ‘none of the above’ was found. Hopefully, this would help parties to make better policy and actually try to win people’s opinion with substantiated manifestos, while actually interesting people in politics slightly more; I’m quite certain people would not enjoy continuous compulsory elections due to a consistent ‘none of the above’ victory, so rather than paddling in disillusionment, maybe the public would take an interest – alongside the changing of party policy to better represent their wants and needs, people may actually start to vote rationally.

Of course, this view is very idealistic, and I’m sure in practice there would be far more difficulties in implementing it, or people simply wouldn’t behave in the way I would hope for them to in my head (the beauty of political science is you never can really precisely predict an outcome, and the beauty of that is that no one can ever tell you that your prediction is wrong (until it happens) because, without it actually happening there is no perfect precedent to go on), however in my opinion it would be a step towards a more representative government within our representative democracy, as well as a step towards educating the public on politics and the issues surrounding it.

(Note: If people do not become more interested in politics and actually become knowledgeable in it, I personally would love to see an authoritarian society where power doesn’t corrupt the leaders and they do everything in the interest of the people (due to the irrationality of so many voters who don’t know enough about politics and issues facing our country to really make a useful input (the problem with politics is everyone seems to have an opinion however ill informed), however that view is far too controversial, idealistic and near impossible, thus I’ll happily settle for the ‘none of the above’ and compulsory voting option…)

(Note again: I asked Richard Harrington (MP for Watford) what his views were on 'none of the above' and he stated that he agreed with it completely, as the participation of everyone in politics is utterly vital (or words to that effect.))

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