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May elections well run but low turnout is a wake-up call ahead of new polls in November report says

Published: 10 Jul 2012

The Electoral Commission has today published its report on English local elections and mayoral referendums held in May 2012.

The analysis shows that the polls went smoothly with 89% of voters saying they were confident that they were well run.

But the report found that there were some areas for concern, particularly with regard to turnout and concerns over electoral fraud.

The turnout for the local elections was 31.1% compared to 35.1% at the nearest equivalent elections held in 2008. Turnout for the Mayoral referendums ranged from 36.5% in Bradford to 23.9% in Nottingham, where there were no local elections taking place on the same day.

Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission, said: “The elections ran smoothly thanks to the hard work of election staff across the country.  But the downward trend in turnout is worrying for anyone who cares about our democracy and is a wake-up call ahead of the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections in November.

“We’ll be doing what we can to make voters aware of the elections and how to participate, but it is the parties and candidates themselves that motivate people to vote. With no free mailing and large constituencies, candidates will need to work hard to communicate their policies to voters.”

The report also highlights voters’ concerns about electoral fraud. Just over a third of people (35%) thought that electoral fraud had taken place at least ‘a little’ at the polls.

The Commission is identifying areas at higher risk of electoral fraud ahead of the PCC elections in November and will work with the police and electoral registration officers to ensure robust prevention and detection plans are in place.

Jenny Watson continued: “Electoral fraud can involve serious criminal offences and has the potential to damage public confidence in our elections. That’s why we’re pleased the Government has introduced legislation to tighten up voter registration.

“But more needs to be done and we’re disappointed that the Government has not taken forward our recommendation to review the case for ID at polling stations. We will now carry out this review ourselves.”

Key statistics

  • Only 42% of people said they had enough information to make an informed decision about how to vote in the mayoral referendums.
  • Sixty two per cent of those with English local government elections said they had enough information.
  • 4.95 million votes were cast at the elections. 1.06 million votes were cast at the mayoral referendums.
  • 93% of those who voted in the mayoral referendum said the ballot papers were easy to complete. 98% of those who voted in the local council elections said it was easy.
  • 85% of people said they were satisfied with the procedure for registering to vote.
  • 98% of polling station voters were satisfied with process of voting at their polling station.


For further information and interviews contact:
Electoral Commission Press Office on 020 7271 0704
Out of office hours: 07789 920 414

Images for media use, free of charge, at: www.flickr.com/photos/electoralcommissionuk/collections/

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Notes to editors

  1. The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament. Our aim is integrity and public confidence in the UK’s democratic process. We regulate party and election finance and set standards for well-run elections and are responsible for the conduct and regulations of referendums held under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (2000).
  2. Read the report here (PDF)
  3. The Commission – working with Police Authority Returning Officers (PAROs) and Local Returning Officers (LROs) – will run a public information campaign ahead of the PCC elections to raise awareness about the elections and how to cast a vote using the Supplementary Vote (SV) system.   This will include sending an information booklet to every household in England (outside London) and Wales where there are elections. The Government has proposed that a central website will be created to host information about candidates. Although the Electoral Commission has concerns about this approach, our focus will now be on ensuring that, as far as possible, voters are made aware of it and are able to access the information they need.
  4. 5% of people thought electoral fraud happened ‘a lot’, 30% thought it had taken place ‘a little’, 32% said that it ‘hardly happened’, 9% that it did not happen ‘at all’, and 23% said they ‘didn’t know.’
  5. The Electoral Administration Act 2006 gives the Commission powers to set and monitor performance standards for electoral services. The standards for both EROs and ROs do not apply in Northern Ireland. Visit our performance standards page to read more: www.electoralcommission.org.uk/performance-standards
    87% of Returning Officers met all of the Commission’s performance standards.
  6. Public opinion data in the report is based on interviews with 1,354 adults aged 18+ across England (this comprises of 793 in English areas holding council elections only, 74 in English areas holding Mayoral referendums and 487 in areas holding both).