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Saturday, April 03, 2004

Vote early

I went along to this event yesterday. It was staged in Swansea College, on their Tycoch Campus. Two students were confined to a glass walled trailer complete with carpet, table, sofa etc and set a series of tasks. This stunt was thought up by the Electoral Commission to encourage young people to vote. The confinees were giving up their right to vote and to independent action for a day to illustrate the disempowerment that comes about when we do not exercise our democratic rights. An MC steered the audience through a series of votes on what task the two should be given next. Presumably, the think tank who had come up with this stunt had reasoned that if people vote for Big Brother then why not give them a Reality TV-type event to encourage them to vote.

Impressive as this was I am not convinced that it will be effective. In fact I am not convinced that the Electoral Commission have any idea at all how to get more young people to vote (I haven't!) but are floundering around in the dark in an effort to come up with a winning formula. Most students I spoke to thought it was good fun but they were not sure of its purpose. I had reports later that others were just confused by the posters that were scattered around the campus advertising the event. Many thought that they were there to remind them that it was polling day when it was not.

Perhaps the best way to encourage people of all ages to vote is to give them a real choice and convince them that their vote really will make a difference. In other words the solution lies in the hands of those standing for election not those appointed to monitor and regulate the electoral process. Still, 6 out of 10 for effort.

If all this seems a little ungenerous towards the Electoral Commission then I should point out that they have form. Putting aside the chaos and confusion they sought to create amongst Returning Officers during the Assembly Elections with conflicting guidance and the pointless and expensive advertising campaign they ran to try and increase turnout (turnout went down), they continue to blunder their way through. Even the UK Government is ignoring their advice on Postal Voting Pilots (though I thought it wa sfairly sound advice).

One small example was the consultation they held last week on the funding of political parties. They held a meeting in which a number of political parties were asked to speak, but no Welsh Liberal Democrat. I e-mailed the organiser to complain and have not even had an acknowledgement, never mind a reply, a week later. The event went ahead as planned as far as I know. So much for balance and impartiality. I also thought that the organiser of Friday's event was rather rude. I do not go to these events to get publicity but if representatives of more than one political party are present and the media turn-up I do not expect the supposedly impartial Electoral Commission to steer them exclusively towards just one of the parties without any explanation to the others. Sour grapes I know but I speak as I find.

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