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Election Day (Weekend Voting Consultation)

Volume 508: debated on Monday 22 March 2010

I have laid today before Parliament the Government’s response to the “Election Day: Weekend Voting” consultation.

The right to vote is the basis of our political system. Strengthening our democracy requires the removal of barriers to the exercise of that right, so the system for delivering elections must be accessible and responsive to the needs of voters. To this end, the Government committed to consult on whether moving elections to the weekend might help to make voting more accessible and so potentially raise levels of turnout at elections. The consultation provided a further opportunity for debate about how the democratic process might better be shaped to the needs and preferences of citizens.

The “Election Day: Weekend Voting” consultation paper, published in June 2008, invited views on the merits of moving the voting day from the traditional Thursday to one or both days of the weekend for parliamentary and European parliamentary elections, and local elections in England and Wales; and on the best way to do this. The paper set out a range of issues that would need to be taken into account and invited views and evidence. These included the importance of ensuring that religious groups would continue to have opportunities to vote in a manner consistent with their beliefs, and the practical and resource considerations.

The Government launched the weekend voting consultation with an open mind on whether moving polling day could be expected to support greater participation. I am grateful that many people and organisations responded to the consultation. We have considered carefully the views expressed. It is clear that there is no simple or single solution to raising participation and addressing the issues of low or falling turnout, and the responses reveal that there is a wide range of views on the proposals that were put forward.

An overall majority of respondents favoured retaining election day on a weekday. Evidence provided by local authorities and electoral administrators suggested that a weekend poll, particularly one held over two days, would add considerably to the logistical complexity of running elections, particularly in terms of finding appropriate staff and premises. While a small majority of those members of the public who responded to the consultation supported proposals for weekend voting, there was no evidence that its introduction would have a significant positive impact on participation rates.

Overall, given the lack of consensus in favour of a moving election day, the Government do not propose to move forward with weekend voting at this time. However, recognising that there is some evidence of support among electors—albeit not conclusive here—we believe the issue should be further considered if additional evidence or a stronger view in favour of weekend voting were to become apparent in the future.

The results from the consultation suggest there is continued popular support for remote voting—whether by postal means as now, or potential electronic means in the future. But it is clear from the responses that people wish to be reassured that such methods are secure, transparent and cost-effective. This is an issue that will be kept under review.

The Government are committed to approaching change to the administration of elections in a balanced way to support accessibility and increased engagement but also to ensure that the security and integrity of the ballot is protected. Maintaining public confidence in elections is paramount and it is right that any proposal for change is taken forward only where there is broad support.