Make your vote count - whatever the weather

First published in News Daily Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Politics and business reporter

IT is forecast for rain, you are disillusioned with politicians and it is not clear what your councillors actually do.

It is tempting to think it is not worth bothering to cast your vote tomorrow.

With only about a third of electors making it to the polls in local elections you are probably not alone.

But election chiefs, political parties, organisations and others are working hard to show it is essential for a healthy democracy.

Gerry Stoker, professor of politics at University of Southampton, says there are two key reasons why people should vote.

Chiefly, it holds politicians to account, making them more sensitive to public opinion and influence.


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There is also a moral argument that it is a citizen's duty to use the rights fought for by previous generations.

The Electoral Commission, the independent body that regulates elections, has already run a multimedia awareness day on the importance of registering to vote and using it.

Councils also have a duty by law to take "appropriate" steps to encourage participation by electors.

In general this year's crop of Hampshire councils going to the polls have a better than average record, despite limited moves to boost turnout such as encouraging more postal votes and running local awareness campaigns in council literature.

Winchester has a traditional turnout of around 45 per cent. Both Eastleigh and Fareham, similar in size, fluctuate around 40 per cent.

However, Southampton is still lagging behind, with a turnout of around 30 per cent and as few as 15 per cent of electors voting in one city centre ward.

Last year city election chiefs tried to intervene by sending out buses and even a spotter plane to spread the get out and vote message.

However the costly exercise, which attracted criticism for potentially distorting turnout in some wards, will not be repeated.

Instead the council is restricting itself to newspaper adverts.

But Mr Stocker believes that rather there being a crisis in turnout, the lower profile of local election campaigning make figures for general elections look comparatively poor.

Even with such intensive and prolonged media exposure just 61 per cent voted in 2005.

He said a deeper problem was the incentive to vote and knowledge of the candidates.

"You've got to knowthere is a real choice and believe that choice willmake a difference and outcomes will change," he said.

"Postal votes and making it easier to vote, none of those really cut themustard unless you've answered those two questions."

Sir Simon Milton, chairman of the Local Government Association agrees.

"The best way to boost turnout at local elections would be to give councils greater powers to genuinely improve people's lives," he said.

"More people would vote at council elections if local authorities had power to raise and retain more money locally."

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