Following on from our discussion of some of the undemocratic flaws in the British electoral system, comes evidence of an even more fundamental problem: optional voting means that in the elections that matter, where participation is higher than authorities guess, many people are prevented from voting at all.
There were angry scenes around the country tonight after hundreds of voters were unable to vote when polling stations closed at 10pm despite queueing for hours, casting a shadow over the results of the election.
We’ve seen similar appalling scenes in recent American elections, too.
If they had compulsory voting, then not only would parties not “win” elections with the support of a small fraction of the country, but electoral commissions would be able to allocate resources appropriately so that every single person gets the opportunity to vote. And if it is possible to have optional voting without disenfranchising people who want to exercise this most basic civil right, then why can’t the UK and USA manage it?
Turning people away from polling stations is about as critical a failure for a democracy as you can get.
UPDATE (8/5): Looks like neither the Tories nor Labour are actually going to commit to specific electoral reform – Cameron’s running around claiming that “I want to make a big, open and comprehensive offer to the Liberal Democrats” – which, in politics, means that he’s making a paltry, closed and pitiful offer to them in the hope that it’s slightly less bad than what they’ll get from Labour. He suggests some kind of “process” to “investigate” the issue – ie, further delay and non-reform.
Clegg should make his demands plain and simple (full PR, preference voting) and put the challenge out there to both old parties, so that if talks fail voters know precisely who to blame.