Harness technology to improve turnout

A LOW turnout is predicted in the Huntingdonshire District Council elections tomorrow (Thursday), because polling systems are locked in the 19th century, a leading election expert says. David Monks, the council s chief executive, the Returning Officer for

A LOW turnout is predicted in the Huntingdonshire District Council elections tomorrow (Thursday), because polling systems are locked in the 19th century, a leading election expert says.

David Monks, the council's chief executive, the Returning Officer for the district, and the country's leading expert on electoral practice and law, expects low polls across all 28 councils in eastern England where he is co-ordinating elections.

"I sometimes understand why people are reluctant to turn out," he told The Hunts Post. "At the polling station you are given a stubby pencil and a scruffy piece of paper and asked to make the mark of the illiterate. It goes back to the 19th century."

And little will change before the next decade, he believes, when 21st century technology may be harnessed to increase public involvement in the democratic process.


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Young people, aged 18 to 24, are particularly difficult to engage. "People are far more likely to vote in Big Brother than in a public election because it's made easy for them," he said.

Mr Monks can see no reason why voting on the Internet or by text message should not be made secure and included in the options available to electors. "I would like to see more experiments over the next few years, to see if it improves turnout. We have to encourage younger people to vote. We need to make some serious changes to get a 21st century voting system."

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He would also like to see the voting age reduced to 16 - it was lowered from 21 to 18 in 1970. "Not everyone agrees with me here, but it worked well in an experiment in Germany. It would mean people would start to get involved at school."

The age reduction is also the settled policy of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, which Mr Monks represents in dealings with Government on electoral issues.

He is critical of those who want to make voting compulsory. "All we would have is compulsory attendance at polling stations, a load of spoilt ballot papers and the courts clogged up with prosecutions."

In Huntingdonshire, he expects turnout tomorrow to be patchy, with Buckden probably attracting more voters than other wards.

No matter what the outcome, HDC will remain overwhelmingly Conservative-controlled.

There will be parish council elections in Alconbury, Alconbury Weston, Alwalton, Buckden, Bury, Elton and Farcet, and a by-election in St Ives South for St Ives Town Council.

Polls were also scheduled for several other parishes, but they were cancelled because there were too few candidates offering themselves for election.

* To find out who were the winners and losers in the district council elections, log on to www.huntspost.co.uk on Friday to view all of the results.

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