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25.04.19

Voters ‘denied democracy’ in local elections by hundreds of uncontested seats

Hundreds of thousands of voters in next week’s local elections will be “denied democratic rights” by nearly 150 seats going completely uncontested according to the Electoral Reform Society.

England faces “democracy deserts” across the local elections, the research said, and before a single vote is cast 300 council seats are guaranteed to particular parties or candidates with around 850,000 would-be voters living in wards denied.

In addition to the 148 councillors who will take up their role “without facing scrutiny at the ballot box,” a lack of competition in some multi-member wards means 152 seats are guaranteed for one party or another.

The worst area for under-contested and uncontested seats is the East Midlands, with 90 guaranteed seats, and the West Midlands, South East and the East of England all containing at least 45 such seats.

The Electoral Reform Society said: “This democratic deficit is a long-running sore at the heart of local government in England, where these uncontested and under-contested seats have been a feature of local elections for decades.”

A key reason, the organisation said, is the current voting system which “does not look much like democracy and especially not a vibrant one.”

The report is highly critical of the first-past-the-post system, which means some council parties and candidates conclude there is little incentive to invest time and money contesting wards where their chances of winning are very small.

Darren Hughes, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “Elections are a cornerstone of our democracy.

“Yet around 270,000 voters are being denied the chance to exercise their most basic democratic right and have their say on who represents them. Clearly something is not right, with voters going totally unheard.

“Large parts of England are at risk of becoming ‘democracy deserts’, with seats going uncontested and residents having no say who represents them.”

The system the report proposes as a “simple solution” to the issues raised is the single transferable vote (STV) electoral system which was introduced in 2007, virtually eliminating the uncontested sites.

This sees a small team of representatives, three to five councillors in size, elected to represent an area with voters numbering candidates in order of preference on the ballot.

To get elected, councillors must achieve a quota, but extra votes a candidate receives above this are re-allocated to these voters’ second-preference candidates which “drastically reduces the number of wasted votes.”

Wales is also considering introducing STV for its council elections, and the Electoral Reform Society said it would go a long way to ensuring voters are denied a genuine choice at the ballot box.

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