Early voting pilots show why other reforms should be piloted in future

As I’d predicted, the early voting pilot in this May’s elections in Wales has turned out to be a bit of a dud. In line with previous early voting pilots in the UK, administratively things went pretty smoothly in allowing some voters a chance to vote in person ahead of polling day. But also as with previous pilots very few people took up the early voting, and most likely a good chunk of even those who did would have voted anyway by other means.

In this case, people in Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Torfaen and some parts of Bridgend were given the opportunity to vote early, but only 1,791 did so, making turnout thanks to early voting range between 0.2% and 1.5%. Moreover, three quarters of those who voted early said they would have voted by another means anyway.

The Electoral Commission has been oddly reticent about making the obvious conclusion – that other ideas are more worthy of the time and money it takes to run electoral pilots given the consistent under-performance of early voting. Especially now that has been confirmed with up-to-date data.

Let’s hope that other ideas get piloted in future instead, especially as there are several that look more promising.

4 responses to “Early voting pilots show why other reforms should be piloted in future”

  1. re-design the Poll Card, so that it is more easily read and understood. Have the voter number more bold so that the teller can read it more quickly, avoiding a hold-up at the door.
    Arrange for a tombola drum at each polling station, for the cards to be put into by the polling clerk, (after checking the person against the list). The Tombola to be drawn at the close of the poll, (witnessed by the last voter?) and a prize be awarded. If there’s a chance of a prize for voting, (say a meal for two at the local carvery?) that could increase turnout.

  2. The case for early voting is less about the headline numbers to make a massive ident into voter turnout gaps – these figures are fairly typical of an early voting experiment.

    The case is more about improving the voter experience by giving choice and improving convenience and service: https://www.taylorfrancis.com/chapters/oa-mono/10.4324/9781315545172-4/evaluating-electoral-management-performance-toby-james?context=ubx&refId=e196c2fe-cec2-40fd-a159-ffd901b9429a.

    Having the legislative resilience to able to the deliver extended non-traditional voting hours was also important in pandemic – and something that the UK couldn’t do.

    The more exciting (and less obvious) parts about the pilots are actually the use of the live register. More about this coming soon: https://www.electoralintegrityproject.com/electoral-data

  3. Interesting to see. I wonder if you need to run it for some time before it takes off. In Australia’s most recent election it seems almost a third voted via early voting, and while that number will partially show the impact of people trying to avoid crowded lines on the day of the election, the share has been going up every election for some time.



    • Interesting figures from Australia. They’ve got a very different pattern of postal voting – lower and growing less than in the UK, so the popularity of early voting there may well be an alternative to the postal voting that we get in the UK. Also worth noting that voting is mandatory there and so there’s a greater incentive to be sure you’re going to be able to vote rather than risk something coming up on the main day itself. It’d be quite logical to think ‘there’s a legal task I have to do by a deadline so I won’t leave it to the last day to do it’.

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