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MPs suggest weekend elections and online voting to increase engagement

Elections on weekends, online voting and being able to register to vote on election day itself are some of the “radical changes” proposed by MPs to get more people to vote.

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee has published a new report on voter engagement calling for the next Parliament to take their recommendations forward and “re-engage the electorate, so that participation at future elections is much higher”.

Graham Allen MP, chair of the committee, said: "Turnout for the last general election was only 65%—almost 16 million registered voters chose not to participate—and millions of people were not even registered to vote. This is not an acceptable state of affairs for a modern democracy.

“If we do not take urgent action to make elections more accessible to the public and convince them that it is worth voting we will be facing a crisis of democratic engagement.”

The committee wants to see a number of initiatives piloted throughout the next Parliament, including online voting, holding elections on weekends and allowing registration closer to, and on election day itself. If these prove successful the committee would like them to be used in the 2020 election.

Online voting was also recently recommended by the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy, set up to explore how Parliament could better use digital technology, it concluded that there is  a “growing appetite” for internet voting among the public.

The MPs have also recommended that after the 2015 election the government explore extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds, following the successful youth engagement in the Scottish referendum.

Other recommendation from the committee include the government bringing forward plans to target groups who are currently least likely to be registered to vote, including young people and those with disabilities.

The committee also recommends that the government consider making registration automatic – so people don’t have to individually apply to register to vote – and put in place plans to prompt people to register to vote when they access other public services.

Allen said: “We are recommending that the government consider some radical changes, like online voting, holding elections at the weekend, and letting voters register to vote on Election Day, because we believe a serious problem needs serious answers. We have also stressed the importance of serious action being taken by political parties, individual politicians and the Government if the public is to be reengaged not just with elections, but politics more broadly.

“It is now for the political parties and next Parliament to take forward this work and re-engage the electorate, so that participation at future elections is much higher.”

When discussing the recommendations of his Commission on Digital Democracy, John Bercow told BBC Radio 4: “There will be a growing appetite for online voting and that it will happen. Now I don’t mean by that that it will necessarily at any stage be compulsory to vote in that way.

"But I think that the notion that, if it can be established as secure and reliable people should have the option to vote online, will gain ground more and more and more.”

He said the 2020 poll "could be the first election in which people have the opportunity... to vote online".

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