Turnout woes: how can a country get people voting?

With voter registration deadline for the June general election approaching within a few hours, it is interesting to follow the numbers and see an overall increase in registered voters (https://www.gov.uk/performance/register-to-vote). However we are still due to see what the actual voter turnout on 8th June will be.

Voting is the very basis of a democracy. A high voter turnout is the best guarantee of a decision that reflects a nation's - or, indeed any other group's - real desires.  Yet countries across the world (including the US and UK) suffer from lacklustre voter turnouts. The United Kingdom spoke of ‘bumper’ turnouts for the 2015 election – and indeed, it was the highest in 18 years – but 66.1% (or two-third of the people who were allowed to vote) isn’t fantastic in the grand scheme of things. The United States have similar problems, with only 58% of eligible voters turning out for one of the most controversial elections in the nation’s history last year.

Why are some countries struggling to get voters to the booths - and how can it be changed?

Should voting be compulsory?

According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, Singapore tops the chart for voter turnout, with an exceptional 93.6% turnout at the country’s most recent (2015) parliamentary election. Next on the list is Australia, who reached 93.2% in 2013.

Those two countries have something obvious in common: voting is compulsory in general elections. All citizens (except some who live overseas) are required to cast a vote.

This has pros and cons. On the down side, it does lead to higher incidences of spoilt ballots (Australia’s last election saw 5.9% of ballots spoiled, compared with the UK’s 0.2%). In addition, reluctant or uninformed voters may be simply ticking a random candidate to get their vote over and done with.

On the other hand, the fact that more disinterested citizens are more or less forced to the ballots means that it’s easier to get an accurate view of what the country wants: it isn’t just the ‘politically engaged’ who are putting their opinions across.

Could we make voting more convenient?

Market research conducted among 2,000 UK non-voters in 2015 suggested that two-thirds of respondents would be 'more likely' to vote if they were able to do so online, according to research company Survation.

Another way to get the public to the polls could be to turn voting days into national holidays. Trying to fit in a dull and lengthy trip to vote after (or before) a long day’s work is likely to put off many citizens from bothering.

How do we connect with the public?

Sweden is another country with a great voter turnout (85.8% in 2014). In Sweden, though, voting is not compulsory. So how do they do it?

The Scandinavian country puts a huge focus on making the public feel connected with the democratic process. They set up ‘democracy centres’ in some cities, offering free education and a chance for discussion. Some towns created little ‘democracy passports’ to hand out to first-time voters, detailing the process of voting and why it is important.

Another way to connect is to open up a dialogue with the group least likely to vote: young people. Schools should be placing greater emphasis on the importance of democracy and - perhaps even more importantly - the process of democracy in their country. After all, young people aren't likely to be interested in something they don't understand.