We live in a world which values democracy. Even the least democratic state has ‘democratic’ in its name: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Democracy comes from the Greek ‘Demos’ and ‘Kratia’, meaning, ‘people’ and ‘power’ respectively, therefore Democracy is all power to all people. However, Democracy as we know it is put in danger when people do not vote, as the result is not a universal opinion. This means Democracy is at stake if we do not cure low voter turnout and, although democracy is an imperfect system, it is the best one we have (as the aphorism says, “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms”) so we should not allow democracy to be undermined in the public eye because of the people not having their political beliefs responded to. This leads me on to the question “What measures can be taken to increase voter turn-out at elections?”. In order to answer this question, this essay needs to cover the elements that effect voter turnout. In “A Theory of the Calculus of Voting”, it states that:
R=The probability the voter will turn out,
p= Probability that their vote matters,
B= Benefit of one candidate being in power over the other candidates,
C= Cost of voting to the voter,
D= Duty to the state, or the sense of goodwill/citizenship one gets from voting.
For the purpose of this essay, we must assume that all voters are acting rationally. This means that, to increase voter turnout, we must increase p, B and D and decrease C for every member. This essay will now detail ways to do these.
Firstly, which measures can we use to increase p, the probability a vote matters? A way to do this would to be to implement a proportional representative system. A proportional representative system is one where, according to John Stuart Mill, “A majority of the electors would always have a majority of representatives; but a minority of the electors would always have a minority of representatives”, meaning every person is represented equally in parliament. This would mean every vote would count, as even if you vote for a party that gets a minority, your vote still influences who gets into parliament and who has power. Therefore, your vote would count more than, for example, a first past the post system, like there is in the UK, where “the candidate with the most votes in each constituency wins and becomes the MP for that seat. All other votes are disregarded.” This would mean that, as their vote has more power and influence over what happens in a parliament, an electorate would be more likely to turn out to vote. It is therefore unsurprising that the top 9 highest turnouts have had a proportional representative system.
Another measure we could use to increase voter turnout is by increasing B, the benefit of one candidate being put into power over other candidates, is limiting the total amount of parties allowed to run in an election at any one time. This would result in fewer parties over the large political spectrum, so fewer parties with similar views. This would mean that a representative of each party would place very differently on the political spectrum to another, so having one elected would also be very different. This means that it is more beneficial to the electorate to vote for the party they associate with the most, as, if they do not, it is likely that a political group with greatly different beliefs to them will get into power. This may reveal why the USA has the 4th highest voter registration, as they have two major parties, one on the left and one on the right, with very differing beliefs, so many people find it important to have the right to their say. However, although their voter turnout is low, it is largely because their most recent vote was purely parliamentary, not presidential. The president is portrayed by the mainstream media as the main representative for all Americans, especially as it is covered more widely than local campaigns, and there is a significant trend of parliamentary voter turnout being higher when there is also a presidential election. Their most recent Presidential election would have put them as the 4th highest non-proportional country in voter turnout. In the parliamentary elections, there are also more parties, for example, in California, there are 6. Both of these reasons show how limiting the parties in a system can elevate the turnout.
Furthermore, one could increase voter turnout by decreasing C, the cost of voting to the electorate, by increasing the amount of polling stations in every constituency. This would decrease the time taken from the electorate to vote, as the line for polling booths would decrease and so would the distance to the nearest polling station, therefore the cost to them is less. A survey in the USA revealed that decreasing lines outside of polling stations would increase the voter turnout by 36%. In addition, you could decrease the cost of voting to the electorate by making election day a national holiday. The same survey showed that doing so would increase voter turnout by 50%. This works because, if you vote, you lose time when you could be working, and as the cliché states, “time is money’. This means, when a national holiday is implemented, nobody is working, so you are not losing out on any wage, therefore the cost of voting is less.
Finally, increasing D (Duty to the state, or the sense of goodwill and citizenship one gets from voting) could allow voter turnout to grow because of the equation. This could be done by having elections around Christmas time, as it has been proven that people are more likely to do selfless things at that time to help people in need. The head volunteering strategist for the Salvation army, Claire Bonham, said that “A lot of places will run a lunch or an event they wouldn’t run at another time of year because they know they won’t struggle to get the volunteers,” suggesting lots of places take advantage of the giving nature at Christmas time, as at other times, people will not be as motivated to help those less fortunate than themselves. If Parliament took advantage of this also, perhaps by introducing public service broadcasts around Christmas on how voting helps those who need it most (for example, airing stories of how Tony Blair’s Labour government aided people by introducing minimum wage), voter turnout would increase, as people will feel as if they are helping the state and the people in it by voting, and they will be even more inclined to volunteer their time for people less fortunate, by going to their polling station, because it is Christmas.
In conclusion, the probability a person will vote is based on 4 elements:
- Probability that their vote matters
- Benefit of one candidate being in power over the other candidates to the voter.
- Cost of voting to the voter
- The feeling of goodwill one gets from voting.
This can be increased by:
- Introducing Proportional Representation
- Limiting the amount of parties in the system
- Increasing the amount of polling stations in every constituency and making election day a national holiday
- Making election day happen around Christmas.
When the Probability a person will vote is increased, voter turnout will increase, therefore voter turnout can be increased in these ways.
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