The 10% turnout in the West Midlands PCC by-election represents an embarrassment to UK democracy

wm policeEarly reports from the West Midlands suggest that just over one in ten people voted in the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) by-election yesterday. The estimate is that turnout was 10.32% meaning that around 1.8million people (out of an electorate of 2million) did not vote for their new Commissioner.

The turnout in Coventry and Sandwell were in single digit figures.

PCCs are elected representatives who work to ensure that the police forces in England and Wales run effectively. There are no PCCs in London. The role of the PCC is to hold police forces to account and to be a public voice for policing.

The turnout in this election is one of the lowest in UK election history and is even lower than the original 12% obtained in November 2012. According to the Birmingham Mail, the turnout in some wards was as low as 1% with less than ten votes in student area, Selly Oak, put down to the vote being held during the summer break.

There are various reasons for why this turnout is so low including a lack of demand and awareness about PCCs and the fact that the vote was held just before a Bank Holiday weekend during the summer.

Whilst the PCC has a range of responsibilities such as appointing and dismissing Chief Constables, ensuring value for money, setting out the force’s strategy and priorities, and setting the force’s budget; an election where 90% of the electorate did not vote brings into question the legitimacy and mandate of such PCCs.

Ultimately, this is an election turnout that represents an embarrassment for UK democracy particularly in the wake of a 34% turnout in the Local and European Elections in May.

There is no silver bullet for such a democratic crisis; however a number of steps are needed to reform the system if elected representatives such as PCCs are to be held accountable.

Erdington MP, Jack Dromey called the election a ‘blow to democracy’ and many have questioned why this election was held in a summer month when many voters would be away on holiday or have childcare responsibilities.

Logistically, the accessibility of online voting has the potential to improve the dismally low turnouts of by-elections (which average 38.6% since 2010) that are often held outside of common election periods; however greater investment is needed to raise awareness of the role of PCCs and to boost the coverage of local by-elections as they occur.

Labour’s David Jamieson won the election and has been declared as the new West Midlands PCC.

Turnout broken down by area: Birmingham (10.26%), Coventry (9.54%), Dudley (11.4%), Sandwell (9.8%), Solihull (11.58%), Walsall (10.72%), Wolverhampton (10.19%).

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