The Electoral Commission has confirmed its plans this week to publish a full report on the apparently dire English turnout and voting figures in July, two months after the local elections took place. The recent election turnout is estimated to be as low as 32%, the lowest since the year 2000, and it is evident that the problem with voter participation needs to be tackled.
The incredibly low turnout is a worrying sign, it is clear that there are some underlying issues with the voting system that need to be addressed sooner rather than later. It will be particularly interesting to see the proportion of young people that made up the 32%, as this age group is most commonly known for its slim number of voters. In the last British General Election in 2010, Ipsos Mori estimated that a mere 44% of 18-24 year olds voted. The turnout across the whole UK population was 65.1%, making our young generation the least likely age group to vote - a worrying stat for the country's future.
There are many theories as to why young people across the globe seem reluctant to engage with the political process, but one of the main factors seems to be that young people born in the digital age find the physical process of voting archaic and cumbersome. Shows like X-Factor and American Idol receive young people's votes in their millions, and last year there were 2.7 billion "likes" every day on Facebook. So the question is: How can we achieve the same levels of engagement with the political voting system? In order to make young people's voices heard, somehow we have to convince them to vote. And it might take something radical!
A recent global campaign "Reinvent Voting 2012" aimed to produce creative and innovative ideas on how to bring the voting process into the 21st century and encourage a more digitally native generation to vote. The campaign attracted hundreds of YouTube submissions from creative individuals all over the world. Ideas ranged from the low-tech (dying voters' fingers with ink to create a sort of offline, viral effect), to the high-tech (using ATM machines as polling stations with PINs providing secure identification, or a voting app via a smartphone). What can be clearly seen from the ideas put forward in this campaign is how people want to be connected through the channels they use the most. Digital natives are used to having everything at their fingertips, so why shouldn't the voting process take this into account?
Motivation is still a key issue however. If young people don't want to vote they won't. The grass root campaign 'Bite the Ballot' created by and for young people to inspire others to speak up, state that young people need to believe that their voice counts and that politics will make a difference to their everyday life before they take the step to vote. That being said translating this motivation into physical votes is still an important issue that needs a real solution.
It is clear from the worryingly low turnout at the local elections that more needs to be done to get people voting, and in particular young people. This is far from a new problem and it is time the government committed to tackling this serious issue by thinking more creatively about how to engage the youth in the future of the country they live in.