What do the academics say? More polling stations can raise turnout

Welcome to the latest in our occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research.

Earlier this year I wrote about the merits of experimenting with increasing the number of polling stations:

This is a greatly under-researched area, and has not ever been tested directly in Britain. However, aside from the common-sense thought that shorter travel distance to polling stations may increase likelihood to vote, there is also some practical evidence from an analysis of voters in Brent over 20 years: “we conclude that the local geography of the polling station can have a significant impact on voter turnout and that there should be a more strategic approach to the siting of polling stations”.  Research in the US also points to a similar conclusion. (Thanks to Stuart Wilks-Heeg for highlighting this research to me.)

The problem in part is that pretty much everyone involved – politicians, electoral administrators, councillors and the media – have in the past got terribly excited about electoral innovations that come with shiny new technology (especially if you can stick ‘e’ in front of a word too), whilst much more boring possible ways of raising turnout, such as better poll cards or more polling stations get barely a look in.

I didn’t make it to the EPOP academic conference this year, but from Twitter it looks like there was more evidence to back up the idea that increasing the number of polling stations could, where practicable, be a effective way to raise turnout – and one that doesn’t come with the concerns over security and vote fraud which are raised by other methods:

philipjcowley: Best nerd fact learnt so far at #epop: distance from voter’s house to polling stn makes no difference to likelihoood to vote in general elx.

philipjcowley: But distance is >600m in locals, or >500m for euros, voter turnout plummets. #epop

Now, about the idea of putting polling stations on the first floor…


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