Should we have a day off to vote?

your vote matters lib dem leafletEarlier this year, I was planning a call with a colleague in South Africa when he said: “I can’t do it on that day. It’s Voting Day.” I didn’t realize that South Africans have a public holiday to vote. Perhaps that would be a good idea in the UK – some MPs are thinking that way.

PoliticsHome reports:

A report by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee is inviting responses from the public to further suggestions including introducing compulsory voting, online voting and lowering the voting age from 18 to 16.

The MPs point out that almost 16 million eligible voters chose not to cast a vote at the last general election, warning this is “not an acceptable state of affairs for a modern democracy”.

And they call for elections to be held on a specially designated public holiday or at weekends to try and stem the tide of voter apathy.

“The idea of a ‘democracy day’ fits closely with our view that greater esteem and excitement should return to the electoral process,” the Committee said.

“We recommend the Government explore further proposals for weekend voting, extending voting and designating election days as public holidays.”

What do you think?

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Seems a sensible idea, but does nothing to address the root causes of disengagement. Rearranging the deckchairs on the titanic comes to mind.

  • ISHvinder Matharu 14th Nov '14 - 5:04pm

    if we had fixed four year Parliaments. the leap year day would have been possible and not costly

    i realise Govns do not like elections in the winter though…………

  • matt (Bristol) 14th Nov '14 - 5:05pm

    Who is ‘we’, and how is this ‘right’ to be guaranteed to those for eg on zero-hour contracts?

    If it’s just about allowing the politicised middle classes and older voters who already dominate politics enough to exercise more control over the system, such a proposal would not in any way move things on far enough.

    Otherwise, yes.

  • matt (Bristol) 14th Nov '14 - 5:07pm

    Ishvinder, nothing would prevent us holding it on May 1st (say) every leap year.

  • If polling day was a public holiday would people not simply head for the seaside/ theme park/ relatives/ Trafford Centre etc. etc. ?

    Is it really so difficult to spare 5 minutes to visit the polling station on the way to/from work?

  • Adam Corlett 14th Nov '14 - 5:17pm

    As long as it wouldn’t be called ‘Democracy Day’ (as the Indy put it), I think it’s a great idea.

    Is there any evidence from abroad about it? There are some reasons why it might *reduce* turnout (not travelling to and from work; needing to look after the kids; going on holiday…) but I doubt it.

    It would also raise the question of which elections are important enough to deserve a public holiday (and who would decide).

    Tongue in cheek, maybe the government should properly bribe us by saying “you can only have Voting Day bank holiday next time if turnout this year is above 75%”!

  • It is indeed rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

    The “tide of voter apathy” is not apathy at all. It’s all about the lack of appealing – or in fact any – alternatives to the failed orthodoxy we get from the Westminster bubble. The Scottish referendum made it abundantly clear that where an alternative exists – even one that in my view contains a large helping of snake oil – then people will go for it in large numbers such is the intensity of dislike for the current fare.

    Are MPs wilfully blind that they don’t get this? As I’ve said before there is a very obvious opening for a party that offers an alternative (although it would require minimally competent leadership which does seem to be difficult to organise).

    Mind you, if we do get compulsory voting what’s the betting that a social media campaign persuades a large number of seriously hacked-off younger voters to go Looney.

  • I personally think we should have
    a) compulsory voting (It would force parties to appeal to the wider electorate which could only be good for democracy)
    b) online Vote ( it would be no more open to fraud than postal voting)
    c) Giving people time off work to vote(They do it in Australia)
    d) opening up the vote to 16 year olds (these young men and women are embarking on careers and studies to take them forward for the rest of their lives and political parties policies have a direct effect on their futures and I believe it is right that these young men and women should get a democratic vote on this)

  • I’m not against the idea of a voting bank holiday, but it would be incredibly expensive. The loss of output from a bank holiday is estimated to be between £1.2bn to £2.3bn. We should weight this up against all the other ways we could invest in democratic engagement.

    Then again, we now get bank holidays for royal events such as weddings and jubilees. Are we really saying monarchy is more important to the UK than democracy?

  • In some country’s they have to queue for hours to vote here I’ve never waited more than a few minutes so I see no purpose for a day off. All it would do for me as a business owner would be to reduce the amount of money available and therefore would reduce the amount available for wages. If it’s that important, and as we now have fixed term parliaments vote on one of the May bank holidays. I would guess that doing that would reduce turnout though…

  • No.

  • Duncan Stott 14th Nov ’14 – 5:29pm
    “…..,,,we now get bank holidays for royal events such as weddings and jubilees. Are we really saying monarchy is more important to the UK than democracy?”

    Well the government spends a lot more on the monarchy than it does on democracy, so maybe that is the depressing answer to your question.

    We could of course shift voting to Sundays, when most people have the day off already.
    A tiny percentage of the population will grumble on religious grounds — although I doubt they could point to anywhere in The Bible where it says “Thou shall not vote on Sunday”.

    Voting on Sundays in a secular and democratic republic appeals to me.

  • What do you bet many employers would find a day to remove vote day off the annual allowance crikey many employers even want to tell employees when they can have a holiday now

    Doubt this would engage voters but enrage maybe

  • stuart moran 14th Nov '14 - 6:41pm

    I cannot believe people here are using the ‘cost to the economy’ argument!

    One day in 5 years and it doesn’t stop us having them for Royalty – shows how some people value pageant and privilege above democracy

    I am favourable (although some good points made above by GF and Adam) as long as it is used to promote democracy. It also shouldn’t be promoted in isolation

  • stuart moran 14th Nov '14 - 6:42pm

    like the John Tilley post…most of Europe votes on Sunday

  • Peter Chegwyn 14th Nov '14 - 7:14pm

    Instead of a day off to vote, why not a day off from receiving begging emails from Lib Dem HQ?

    I’ve just got today’s email from Tim Gordon which includes the line:

    “We can’t match the Conservatives for big donors”

    Usually that’s true but in the week that the Lib Dems have received a legacy of £950,000, our biggest donation in 10 years, surely whoever actually writes these begging missives could have worded today’s somewhat differently?

    Bad timing!

    Doesn’t anyone from [email protected] ever check these things before pressing the ‘send’ button?

  • Rabi Martins 14th Nov '14 - 7:18pm

    Sorry Paul but I think the idea just plain daft People choose not to vote for a variety of reasons but not having the time to do it is not one I have heard mentioned that often
    The problem is the country has lost its sense of community and and with it all sense of any moral obligation to do anything for the greater good of the country like voting in elections
    If you created a Polling Day holiay I doubt the turnout will increase by more tha a couple of percentage points
    The one thing that might increase turn out is electronic voting I really do not understand why when a country as vast as India with a far lower level of online access can do it why a leading western nation like ours cannot !

  • This might be a good idea if we shifted elections to Wednesdays to stop people going for a four-day weekend.

  • paul barker 14th Nov '14 - 7:48pm

    I think the point of a Holiday is to interupt the normal flow & flag up that this is something special. We could turn it into a Festival of Democracy with music & bouncy castles etc. Something like Xmas or Halloween or Bonfire Night. We could have special short Ceremonies for 1st Time Voters with a badge & a free cake. Make Voting into a Rite of Passage.
    Lets use some imagination, Voting should be exciting.

  • I think people forget only politicians and bankers get public holidays off, for everyone else from retail staff to bus drivers would not get the day off hence why calling for extra public holidays at any time benefits such a small minority of the population!

  • Daniel Henry 14th Nov '14 - 10:17pm

    The simple way to do this would be hold the election during one of the existing May bank holidays.

  • John Critchley 15th Nov '14 - 7:59am

    Definitely Sunday with electronic recording at poling stations, leading to personal (home) access to electronic voting in due course.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 15th Nov '14 - 9:50am

    Building on John’s point, France and Spain vote on Sundays and they have very strong Roman catholic communities.

  • Michael Brown 15th Nov '14 - 10:38am

    Only last night was I talking about this issue with a fellow Lib Dem in the pub. Like many have already said, vote on a Sunday, most people have it off and those that don’t often work shorter hours.

  • @Dave Page

    “Compulsory voting, and online voting, are particularly dangerous.”

    Why dangerous? I do not see the harm in it

    Is online voting any different to being registered for a postal vote?

    IMO compulsorily voting would be good for democracy, not harmful. It would mean all political parties would have to do more to attract ALL members of society. People would still retain their right to spoil their ballot paper if they really felt that strongly against all the parties on offer, however, I think this would be in a minority, once most people got used to the idea that they do have to take the time and effort to vote they will put more thought into it and start to look at who they think most would represent them.
    That can only be a good thing for democracy in my opinion.
    Combine compulsory voting which takes place over a Friday, Saturday and Sunday to make it easier for all people to participate, with the option to either have a postal vote or online vote.

    Also, it is compulsory for people to fill out the census, so I fail to see why voting should be such an issue

  • No

  • peter tyzack 15th Nov '14 - 11:52am

    I can’t think of a good reason for changing the voting day. Voting on Thursday is about getting the votes counted by the end of the working week, so that the elected people can get themselves organised to start their new role on the Monday. I am almost entirely with Paul Barker, make a day of it(but no, not ‘democracy’ day!) Rabi used the word ‘community’ which is supposedly the root of what its all about.. So if Community Day involved all the Local Groups having a ‘street-market’ to show off what they do and invite people to join them.. and any other idea such as Paul suggests, with going to vote as part of the day’s events. ‘Community’ needs positive involvement and personal action.. not sitting at your computer ticking boxes in an on-line form.

  • @peter tyzack
    “I can’t think of a good reason for changing the voting day. Voting on Thursday is about getting the votes counted by the end of the working week, so that the elected people can get themselves organised to start their new role on the Monday.”

    I don’t think the country is going to come to a standstill just because we might take an extra couple of days to declare the results and MP’s take their seat on say a Wednesday instead of a Monday.

  • Great LibDem idea. Who is going to pay for everyone to have the day off? The LibDem Party?

  • I’m told that turnout rates among under 65s are higher among those in work than those of people out of work. If that’s true then this doesn’t seem like much of a solution.

    And in any case people seemed to manage to vote in the Scottish referendum without needing a day off

    (BTW is it not an offence for an employer not to allow an employee the opportunity to go out to vote – I’ve a dim remembered memory of there being such a provision or bit of caselaw)

  • Stevan Rose 16th Nov '14 - 1:08am

    Weekend voting fine, a public holiday is a ridiculous suggestion. In countries where queues mean voting can take all day it might be sensible but that’s hardly the case here. I have a permanent postal vote; you don’t need a special reason for one. Last time I went into a polling station (to drop off my postal vote) the clerks outnumbered the voters.

    The reason why people aren’t voting is because they don’t identify with the self-serving political classes. Immoral if not illegal expense claims with only a few MPs jailed is proof that the establishment looks after its own. Second jobs, second homes, overseas jollies. Jobs for the boys (and girls) on Commissions, Committees, in the Lords, Enquiries, writing Reports that go nowhere and do nothing, etc. The entire system is heavily corrupted by vested interests with their snouts in troughs at every level. In my constituency we swapped one useless Tory snout, who didn’t let being an MP interfere with his day job and afternoon snooze, with a Labour snout highly adept at sniffing out legal expense maximisation. Who are you going to vote for? No chance of a Lib Dem in these parts. In the past I have struck through all candidates to register a spoiled vote; not voting is simpler.

    In Scotland they had something to vote for, they were highly motivated. You won’t get that at a General Election until politics has been stripped of all the corrupting elements and the snouts have all been turned into bacon. The UKIP attraction stems from a misconception that they are untainted. Notwithstanding their leader’s expense bills for the European Parliament and their Vice Chairman’s past relations with manilla envelopes.

  • I agree with Matt.

    Online voting, compulsory voting & lowering the voting age to 16 has got to be a better way that having another day off work for some.

    There is absolutely no reason why online voting would not be safe – good lord, we do our tax returns online, bank online & so on so the chances of fraud would be minimal with adequate preparatory work beforehand to establish residency in the same way as current postal votes are.

    If we want our young people to engage with politics as they grow older, we need to include them early on. Politics should be taught in schools with the expectation that they need to vote from aged 16 onwards.

  • I believe the only reason why the main 3 political parties do not want to adopt compulsory voting is because they are scared of the 35% + or so of the electorate who currently do not currently turn out to vote.
    The three main parties are happy to stick with their core supporters and attempts to squeeze the remaining floating voters.
    Tories with their pensioners and the wealthy
    Labour, low and middle income earners and unions
    Liberal Democrats, those who believe in civil liberties and to be honest I am not sure who Libdems core supporters are anymore.

    Introducing compulsory voting would force all 3 main political parties to be more inclusive and appeal to wider sections of society,
    Surely that must be a good thing and I think we would see a more Liberal agenda in politics.

    It is currently compulsory for citizens to fill out the census, take part in jury service, all citizens have certain obligations on them and I really do not see the harm in extending this to voting in a general election.

    As I said previously, people would still retain the right to spoil their ballot paper if they so wish, but I believe this would be in a very small minority, once people got used to the idea of voting they will put more thought into it.
    It would also put to bed the idea of a wasted vote, because if all the electorate were voting all of the main parties would be reliant on and fighting for every single vote.

  • Compulsory voting is illiberal.

  • @tonyhill

    A lot of what this coalition government has done is Illiberal.

    Why is it anymore illiberal than say Jury Service or filling out the census?

    And besides doesn’t the end justify the means, if it would create a more open and democratic politics which ends up forcing political parties to adapt policies and target all members of society, rather than targeting just 32% and hoping they scrape through with a small majority.

    There was nothing liberal about the top down reorganization of the NHS which was not in a manifesto or the coalition agreement.
    There is certainly nothing Liberal in a coalition government where there has been a significant transfer of income from the least well-off half of the population to the more affluent in the past four years. Those with the lowest incomes have been hit hardest.
    The transfer of funds from the poorest half of the country to the more affluent did not contribute to deficit reduction
    Thats according to the study carried out by the London School of Economics and the Institute for Social and Economic Research on the coalition’s tax and welfare policies .

  • Under FPTP compulsory voting would be a vile insult. It would represent the government coercing people to engage in pointless acts. This is what I would expect of a totalitarian state.

    If everyone’s vote counted, there could be a justifiable argument but they don’t so there is not.

  • @Martin

    please explain why under compulsory voting and fptp eveyones vote wouldn’t be counted?

  • Matt: I suppose I could try to explain the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs, but I would have to be convinced the attempt would not be pointless on my part.

  • @Martin

    I am just curious why you would think that if we had compulsory voting under fptp why you would still think some people’s vote would not count.
    If you do not want to answer the question then that is of course fine, I do not think there is any need for sarcasm though it’s not very constructive

  • Actually I am a bit taken back by your response to me, I do not know what I did so wrong to warrant you being rude. If you took my comment to you as offensive in some way then I apologize for that. That was certainly not my intention and I thought I was being polite by starting the post with please, maybe that came across wrong.

  • matt: you seem to have missed the subtle illustration about making anyone do pointless things. Are you not aware of the difference between ‘the votes counted’ and ‘they counted the votes’? For that (deliberate?) misreading was the basis of your response.

    Aside from that you seem to want me to spell out the deficiencies and futility of FPTP, however on this site, where these inadequacies are widely understood and accepted, I would rather just take these as read.

  • David Evershed 16th Nov '14 - 12:45pm

    People who are too busy to vote on a Thursday can have a postal vote.

    Quite a high percentage of votes are postal.

    The reason many people don’t vote is because they don’t have any feeling of responsibility or duty. It is better that such people don’t vote.

  • Martin

    I can see that this is not going to get us anywhere
    .To be totally honest I have not got a clue what you are going on about, Probably ignorance on my own part which is rather concerning as I have not even taken my tranqs yet

    I was just curious as to why you would think that under FPTP and compulsory voting , some peoples votes would not count.
    I understand the argument about STV and AV {to some extent} however AV at least was rejected by the public.

    What I do not understand is why would compulsory voting make FPTP as you put it “vile”

    If 100% of the electorate were casting their vote instead of the 65% that we tend to see now, surly that would make the wining party in government, more democratic than what we see now, would there even be a need for STV or AV in that instance.

    If your going to belittle me in your response, then please don’t bother, I was asking a genuine question out of genuine curiosity, that’s the way people who lack knowledge in certain fields learn. If you do not have the patience for that then it would be better coming from someone else.

  • Matt: inadequacies of FPTP really are self evident: most constituencies are safe seats; the overall result is determined by a small number of marginals; in most places the only real point to voting is to record the inadequacy and lack of fair representation generated by FPTP. Why should anyone be impelled to vote where their vote is neither here nor there? Perhaps if there were compulsory voting an appropriate punishment would be to write out 100 lines “I must obey government rules and attend the voting station in elections”.

  • Richard Dean 16th Nov '14 - 7:56pm

    The inadequacies of anything other than FPTP are even more evident. Constituents at least know who they’re voting for in FPTP. Participation rates in national elections are a lot higher than in Euro elections partly for that reason. The fact that a seat is a safe seat doesn’t mean the voting system is bad, it means the voters there have made a democratic choice.

  • One of the best ways to remedy political disengagement and increase the turnout would be to introduce a FAIR voting system as the Germans and most other countries in the world have. It is precisely because people in the vast majority of seats in Britain live in ‘safe’ ones that never change hands that they think it is not worth their while bothering to vote. I live in the ultra-safe Tory seat of Brentwood and Ongar in Essex which is held by Eric Pickles MP (numerical majority 16,921 and percentage majority 33.4 % over the Liberal Democrats) and anyone here who doesn’t cast a vote for him at the general election is basically wasting their time visiting the polling station as he has a safe seat for life. It really is high time this ARCHAIC FRAUD of First Past The Post was done away with and replaced with a PROPORTIONAL system.

    I know the Liberal Democrats as a party prefer the Single Transferable Vote and I can see some advantages in that system but I prefer the German hybrid system of First Past The Post/and proportional voting known as the Additional Member System and I think if we have a future referendum on PR we should have that system as one of the options.

    I am not really a Lib Dem supporter BUT you as a party are totally correct to want to modernize Britain’s archaic ‘democracy’ and you need to continue to put your ideas of voting reform and constitutional reform in general to the forefront of your policy stance. If you do this at the next general election, you can remind the voters of why your party exists and to help save your party from losing too many seats. The Lib Dem voice on electoral and constitutional reform is still sadly needed in Britain.

    PS. Although I am not a big supporter of your party, I have voted for you at general elections and will seriously consider voting for you again next year because of this stance.

  • Thanks Martin for the reply.

    I do however have to agree with what Richard Dean has said and in particular ” The fact that a seat is a safe seat doesn’t mean the voting system is bad, it means the voters there have made a democratic choice.”
    And if we were to have compulsory voting “safe seats” would no longer be “safe” with near on 100% of the eligible constituents voting all political parties would be forced to appeal to a wider section of the communities rather than just focusing policies on their core voters.

    It would certainly make a difference in seats like my constituency of Norwich south
    Where the turn out at the last election was an abysmal 64.6%
    with share of the votes
    Liberal Democrats 29.4%
    Labour party 28.7%
    Conservatives 22.9%

  • Why should I as an elector in the constituency of Brentwood and Ongar have a vote which is of less worth than somebody who lives just a few miles to my South in the extremely marginal seat of Thurrock or to my North in the Tory/Labour battleground seat of Harlow? The location of the voter’s address should not make a big difference to the value of their vote and to whether that vote has a big effect upon the composition of the House of Commons.

  • Steven: That makes good sense; I think that everyone should put the issues first. My support for Liberal Democrats is because of the Lib Dem stance on a democratic and representative electoral system, their approach to civil liberties, their distrust of accumulation of power, their internationalism and commitment to participation in the EU. I do not support these things because I support the Lib Dems.

    Matt’s claim that enforced voting would somehow change the safe seats simply lacks credibility. As for “appealing to a wider section of communities”, does he really think that the Parties are not similar enough?

  • Martin

    How you can say my thoughts on compulsory voting putting an end to safe seats lacks credibility, do you have evidence of this?
    Is it not possible in seats like Brentwood and Ongar as steve mentioned a traditional Tory safe Seat
    Turn out last election was 71.9% with the Tories having a healthy majority and 56.9% of the vote
    Liberal Democrats coming in 2nd with 23.5%

    28.1% of the electorate never turn out to vote, Now assuming these are not Tory Supporters, but a mixture of Liberal Democrats, Labour etc, who feel it is not worth turning out to vote because their vote makes no difference and they are unable to useat pickles.
    If we had compulsory voting, all those 28.1% would know that their vote could make a difference.

    It would mean Tories would have to start appealing to a wider section of society, rather than targeting their core voters, because these so called “safe seats” would no longer be quite as safe.
    Other political parties would have to do the same.

    And yes I agree all parties are very similar, we have seen that through the actions of this coalition government.

    But I believe that electoral reform has been lost for a generation due to disastrous AV campaign and because of the mechanics of how this current coalition worked.
    For many people they do not like what they see, negotiations behind closed doors, lack of transparency, lack of public disagreements showing how successful negotiations have been from the junior coalition partner.
    I think it has put a lot of people off the idea of coalition, It has certainly put me off and did not live up to my expectations.
    So if electoral reform is off the agenda, it is my belief that compulsory voting is the next best thing and would make governments more democratic when the results are from a near 100% turn out.

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Nov '14 - 12:46pm


    I think it has put a lot of people off the idea of coalition, It has certainly put me off and did not live up to my expectations.

    So, what would you prefer? A pure Tory government?

    We KEEP getting this line – people say from what they have seen – the Liberal Democrats “propping up” the Tories – they don’t like the idea of coalitions, they don’t like the idea of proportional representation, they want the good old two-party system : i.e. propping up the Tories by having a system which is biased in favour of them, stops anyone else from breaking through, and mostly delivers a pure Tory government on well under half the electorate actually voting for them.

    The reality was that in May 2010 the Liberal Democrats were in a very weak position. Five times as many Tory MPs as LibDem MPs, not enough Labour MPs to make a Labour-LibDem coalition viable, and the Liberal Democrats clearly on a downward spiral so most likely the biggest loser if another general election was called. If you, Matt, supposed that the coalition that came out of that situation would have been very much different from what we have got, you just hadn’t thought it through.

    So, I think this is a lot of the problem – people had really silly expectations of this coalition, when the reality was that its make-up meant that it couldn’t be any other than a Conservative government with a little Liberal Democrat influence at the fringes. I certainly never expected anything else from the start. I’m not a Tory, I think the underlying problem with this country is that it has been wrecked by the Tory policies of all governments since 1979. The decision of the people of this country to react to the failures of Tory policies being pushed by New Labour by voting Conservative and so a party which wanted the same but in a much more extreme form was madness. So I despise this government and all it is doing. But it’s entirely what I expected a five-sixths Tory government to do. Anyone who had expectations of anything else just didn’t think it through. If you look at coalitions across the world, small junior coalition partners NEVER can dominate the agenda, it just doesn’t happen.

    Of course, it would have helped if Clegg and the Cleggies had understood from the start that this is how it would be, and so engaged in some protective measures against the inevitable, rather than pushing up all those unrealistic expectations and making out that the miserable little compromise that was the reality of a coalition where we were so weakened by our distortional representation electoral system was some sort of triumph.

    On weekend and bank holiday voting – if voting is on a work day, I’m more likely to be at home during the evening. If voting is at the weekend or on a bank holiday, well, that means I’m less likely to vote because I’m more likely to be away taking the advantage to visit friends and relatives in other parts of the country, or taking a short holiday and so on.

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