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Turnout - How Low Can You Go?

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Late last night one observer offered this little info-graphic to illustrate the turnout issue in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

It was welcome relief for those of us up late into the night waiting on the results.

It is now clear that the PCC elections are on track for the lowest turnout in British history.

Yesterday many polling stations stood empty. And when we say, 'stood empty' that is - in few cases - the literal truth. The BBC has offered what might be the video of the election of counting officers facing a seemingly endless succession of empty ballot boxes. Reports bounced around social media of polling stations standing empty till tea time, and what was once held up as a flagship policy has ended up as high farce.

We estimated national turnout at 18.5% before the campaign proper began. Today we can only apologise for such a generous estimate. The general picture now seems to indicate turnout in the low teens.

From the start the Home Office has operated under the assumption that 'if you build it they will come'. Sadly for the Home Secretary democracy just doesn't work that way.

There are still some individual shocking results. The reported turnout for the Greater Manchester area was only 13.5% despite this area also hosting the Manchester central by-election. Northamptonshire only recorded 16.5% turnout despite including the Corby by-election turnout of around 40-45%. And individual councils are recording even lower turnouts - some less than 10%. Halton Borough Council reports a turnout of 9.6% and Stoke on Trent 9.46%. Merthyr Tydfil Council report the lowest in Wales at 11.9%

These figures suggest that this is not just a problem 'first election'. Not content with repeating past mistakes the government has thrown in new ones for good measure. A winter election - never a good idea - was called. Direct mail - always a great way to let the candidates make their case to voters - was axed. And of course, owing to a slight mix up with the law, £350,000 worth of ballot papers went to the shredder in Wales.

And this is not the latest illustration of voter apathy. The public have been given no reason to vote, with no information on either the role or the candidates.

We've heard of many committed voters who decided to stay at home. Tellingly the ballot spoilage rate is high - see tumblr for reference. Around 4.3% of ballots were spoilt in Dyfed Powys and around 3% Wiltshire, a higher rate than in Mayoral elections which used the same voting system.

For their part the government has decided to blame the national media for not being sufficiently interested in covering a story that didn't affect London.

Well, we're sorry, having the government blame the national media for turnout is like the lion blaming David Attenborough for the dead gazelle.

No amount of spin can conceal the historical proportions of this failure. Through both inaction and incompetence the Home Office has helped redefine low turnout. Even in wartime Governments have managed to get more people to the polls with half the population under arms or overseas.

It's clear that the architects of the localism agenda need to go back to the drawing board. Few people could object to the idea of bringing power closer to the people, it's just the cack-handed way the government has tried to deliver on that promise.

One thing is clear. This election has been a comedy of errors from start to finish, and those responsible must be held to account.

Around the Web

PCC Elections: Why did people vote?

Wiltshire PCC election: Conservative Angus Macpherson wins

Lincolnshire PCC election: Less than 20% turn out to vote

PCC election could see 'worst turnout for any nationwide set of elections ever'

Lancashire PCC elections: Labour's Clive Grunshaw wins