Will polling stations start being moved to raise turnout at elections?

I’ve blogged a few times before about the way that increasing the number of polling stations, or locating them better, can increase turnout, by reducing the average travel time for (non-postal) voters to get to their polling place.

However, whilst things that involve technology and electricity (text voting, internet voting et al.) tend to grab the headlines and get demands for action (usually from people who haven’t noticed the previous British trials which showed their failure to have a significant impact on turnout), the rather more prosaic act of wondering about which school halls to use and where to locate hired Portacabins doesn’t get the same attention.

However, help may be at hand – for experts who have studied the link between distance to vote and voting levels submitted written evidence to Parliament’s Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, which is currently studying government drafts of proposed election law changes:

We recommend, however, an additional draft clause that these reviews [of polling station numbers and locations] also take into consideration the accessibility of the polling station in terms of distance travelled to vote by all the electorate in the polling district and not simply cast accessibility in terms of physical access to the polling station by disabled people.

This is because the distance a person has to travel to vote can affect their propensity to do so, especially in lower-salience elections such as those to the European Parliament and local council elections…

In our work in Brent (Orford et al., 2011) we demonstrate that by moving a polling station from its present location to another location that represented the maximum density of voters in the polling district, turnout could be increased by up to 5%. Hence, even subtle changes in electoral procedure and their effect on aggregate levels of turnout merely serve to emphasise the importance of the perceived costs of voting and the sensitivity of voters to this in terms of the decision to vote.

Given the welcome move from often rushed electoral legislation with large numbers of amendments at the last minute all the way through (PPERA 2000? Please, never again) to publishing draft legislation that is then open to public consultation and cross-party committee scrutiny before being revised and put to Parliament, there is a decent chance that this time round the prosaic will get a look in.

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This entry was posted in Election law.


  • peter tyzack 13th Oct '11 - 10:17am

    reviewing the location of polling stations should be one of the duties of the current councillor, ie someone who is supposed to know the patch. This area pledged to stop disrupting schools and avoids using school premises, set out to find community halls etc, successfully, ie places each community are already familiar with. All are now disabled access compliant after a programme of small grants to support costs of any alterations needed.
    I find the long polling days totally unnecessary, now that postal votes are so available, 8am to 6pm is plenty, but I do support the idea of inducements to vote. My suggestion would be that, following introduction of individual registration, everyone who attends to vote should be encouraged to bring their poll card, exchange it with the clerk for a ballot paper (Note ‘a’ ballot paper, one election only per election day!). The poll card would be put into a tombola, (one for each polling station)which would be drawn at the count, during those moments when the counting clerks are twiddling their thumbs. The prize should be something meaningful like % off Council Tax.

  • Eileen Birch 13th Oct '11 - 12:47pm

    Our local polling station is a good example of one in need of a move, not so much because of distance to travel, as because it is in a little frequented cul de sac. A map of the location might be a good idea in this c ase, just to let people know where the polling station is.

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