Practical guide to turning off voters

In Thoughts on May 19, 2014 at 10:52 am

As you might or might not know, this Thursday will see the elections for European Parliament. And while this institution is struggling with various teething problems and has managed to attract various fringe groups vocally opposed to the idea of a unified Europe, I think it is an important building block in something I depend on as a German living in the UK.
Now the UK has a parliamentary tradition reaching back to the days of Robin Hood and therefore should appreciate this exercise, even considering its somewhat shaky relationship with the unifying Europe. But at least I have had to witness the administration stacking the cards against successful execution. Here is what happened.
About a month and a half ago, I received my umpteenth letter asking to confirm my details and status for the electoral register. I appreciate the necessity of this exercise in a country allergic to  ID cards and resident registries. However this time, there was no option to do this online, and the only option to respond was by return mail, paid and posted by me. Now postage is not a huge hurdle, but catching the post office during opening hours is. So not a major incentive and I did not respond. About three weeks later arrived substantially the same, but with a free return envelope enclosed. That made me wonder what the first exercise was all about then, but I responded to that, indicating my preference for postal vote, and chucked the letter into the office’s franked outbox.
This Saturday (May 17th), I received a poll notification for this Thursday, with an option to request proxy or postal vote by 14th May. In sudden cases of sickness or work-related inability to vote, proxy vote could be arranged until Thursday. Now I am writing this on a plane leaving the country, and I won’t be back before Thursday night. So at least I will not be voting on this one.
The whole episode makes me wonder, if this process, which for other elections includes electronic registration, free return envelopes and timely notification is not designed to keep people away. For sure, it does not do much to invite participation. Which is sad, given the cry for voter engagement and democratisation heard from all sorts of corners. Maybe the administrative side needs a step change, and towards more capability and not more privatisation and outsourcing.


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