Opinion: Time to give voters the chance to register their abstention, or wish to abolish a post #WeDoRONRON

We’d all like to believe that the 80+% of voters who stayed at home for last week’s PCC elections would have voted for a Lib Dem candidate had one stood in their area. But the result can probably more accurately be seen as mass public apathy, or even hostility to the Police and Crime Commissioners policy.

A major problem with our electoral system, then, is that there is no effective way to capture and represent ‘none of the above’ or ‘no-one under any circumstances’ viewpoints that so many potentially hold.

As a democrat, I want to fix that. That’s why I hope you’ll support a recently launched government e-petition to add ‘Re-open nominations (RON)’ and ‘Leave position vacant’ to all UK ballot papers for all future elections. Click here for the link to the petition.

Concepts familiar to many students, a RON victory would mean a new election, with all new candidates, offering the voting public a fresh choice; whilst a majority voting for ‘Leave position vacant’ would mean no-one elected and no further election – like in the case of PCCs, a message from the public that ‘we just don’t want this, and will do without’.

Sometimes the answer is different politicians, sometimes it’s none. It’s time for a clear Public Voice to go with the Lib Dem one.

* Andrew Tennant is a Lib Dem member in Loughborough.

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18 Comments

  • Giselle Williams 17th Nov '12 - 5:24pm

    I think that it is also very important to go back to the voters if two parties decide they will make a coalition – especially if the decision to do so has been planned many months prior to the election and the parties have just not mentioned it to the electorate!

  • Will people be allowed to vote to abolish MPs?

  • Stephen Donnelly 17th Nov '12 - 6:33pm

    Somebody has to say it. We don’t need RON we need a proportional voting system. .

  • Andrew Tennant 17th Nov '12 - 6:38pm

    Thanks for the comments so far, I hope you’ve followed the link and signed up too!

    @Stephen Donnelly
    I support PR, or at least STV, but I struggle to see how the two are mutually exclusive. PR helps make sure our parliament better represents voters’ wishes, but voters should still be offered the choice or more choices where they’d prefer not to stomach the initial selection put to them.

  • Richard Dean 17th Nov '12 - 8:32pm

    I suspect that tthese suggestions are just too complicated. Voters can register their lack of interest by not voting, and if there are several elections in a row when this happens the message will be obvious – why give people the trouble of voting not to vote?

    Personally I support elections for PCC and other public posts, so I look to other reasons for apathy. There seemed to be very little exoplanation to voters of what PCCs are or why they are important. The parties are usure of what they were doing, and there was a lot of negative publicity to the effect that PCcs were to be paid huge salaries for doing nothing, when in fact doing the job well would be rather tough. I wonder too if the candidates were simply un-inspiring?

    So I am disappointed by the low turnout but not totally discouraged – we need a couple more electoral tems before we know whether the idea will take root. Maybe electors will begin to appreciate the importance of PCCs when some of the lacklustre candidates who were elected start to mess up badly!

  • Andrew Tennant 17th Nov '12 - 8:55pm

    @Richard Dean
    A substantial proportion of the public never vote, and in many elections in the UK more do not vote than do. Quite how many and for how long do you want to consistently not vote before you consider what the alternative could be and how their voices could be heard?

  • Joseph Donnelly 17th Nov '12 - 10:15pm

    @Stephen Donnelly

    My JCR elections at university use both STV and have a RON option. Which was utilised many times last year in successive treasurer elections.

  • I am very hardline on this – I could be persuaded on compulsory voting, but certainly believe that all elections should have an abstention column, at which voters should be expected to enter reasons why they did not vote, and there should be a good space to write a substantial piece. As a debriefing, all candidates, RO staff etc should go through these reasons, and consider what needs to be done to meet the perceived problems. This should, of course, include political and public education, as I think we all suspect that people do not make sufficient connection between elections and actual overall policy.

  • Keith Browning 17th Nov '12 - 10:37pm

    If I was the President or Prime Minister of one of the 200 countries that isn’t called either the UK or USA, I would have made copious notes of the recent electoral practices, in these two pillars of, so-called, democracy. The next time they came interfering in my elections, calling them badly organised, unrepresentative or undemocratic, I might tell them where to go.

  • Stephen Donnelly 17th Nov '12 - 11:49pm

    All you RONies out there. Think it through. How would it work on general election night: Conservatives 260, Labour 260, Liberal 50, others 30……and 50 RON. It doesn’t matter if you are setting the price of coca-cola (lite) in the students’ union bar, but perhaps when you a re running a country, it might. I think the poster who mentioned the ‘successive’ elections in his JCR probably understood that it would not work in practice.

    The low turn out in the police in the PCC will be sorted out in time through the existing demoractic process i.e. the next government will drop the idea.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Nov '12 - 12:03am

    The problem is this ends up like the Daily Mail – half the time it’s saying politicians are wicked bad people for not providing plenty of high quality public services, and half the time it’s saying politicians are wicked bad people for taking too much tax. So what it really wants is a politician who promises to cut taxes, increase the level and quality of public services, and never tells lies. Perhaps underneath it realises there’s a contradiction there, but never mind, because its real aim is to attack all politicians for not delivering the impossible. Remember this is the paper which said “Hurrah for the Blackshirts”.

  • Andrew Tennant 18th Nov '12 - 8:44am

    @Stephen Donnelly
    Did you argue for a change to AV in the referendum? Only then we argued a politician needed the approval of at least 50% to claim legitimacy.

    Even in your hypothetical example, I fail to see the issue – the government should be that chosen by the people, not those that win by default because a majority have no better option despite preferring someone different.

  • Rather than guess at reasons for a low poll, the public should be researched as to why they stayed away. Their answers are vital if democracy as we know it is to be effective. The government should go out on the streets and ask “why?” using professional pollsters (Mori, You-gov etc) . The chaos of the PCC elections is a too serious threat to democracy to be brushed aside in the vague hope that it is a one-off.

  • But doesn’t this just allow the electorate to cop out? ‘ “Somebody else” should have provided me with a candidate I like.’ They didn’t so I will try and deny a mandate. The real answer is: if you don’t like the choice, stand yourself.

  • Maria has the right idea, RON getting 50% means no-one is elected and you have a vacuum, whereas NOTA(none of the above) means that the winner wins however small the vote, but it clearly says to the elected ‘we are watching you, now prove yourself’.
    Having NOTA on the paper actually encourages people to go to vote, and to think about it. Too many people say at present, ‘I can’t be bothered-they are all the same’, but with NOTA they can go vote and say so.
    As regards encouraging turnout, I think providing a tombola at every polling station and encouraging voters to take their poll cards to the station to put in the tombola would a) encourage people to go to vote, b) discourage the lazy postal vote. The prize would be dinner with the newly elected, so you’d get the opportunity to say what you think.

  • It wasn’t apathy that kept voters from the ballot box, it was the general perception that this was a step too far in the politicisation of the justice system.

    If the Coalition wanted to be fair, they would have had a referendum on this (perhaps at the same time as the one on mayors).

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