Election days should be holidays

Picture of entrance to polling station in NW LondonLast week we had local elections in the UK, along with a referendum on whether to change the voting system to the Alternative Vote, which is currently used in Australia (and to elect party leaders in the major political parties). The motion was rejected resoundingly; I was earlier planning to vote No, but voted Yes on the day although I did not think it was adequate and was obviously a miserable compromise. What bothered me is that the election was held on a work day, when it is least convenient for anyone to vote.

Elections are usually held in May in the UK. There are normally two public holidays in May. There are, of course, four weekends. Holding elections at the weekend might be difficult because it would interfere with both the Jewish and the Christian rest days, but it could easily be held on the May Day bank holiday or the late May bank holiday, or even an entirely separate holiday. The reason is that people who are working need to have time to go and vote — many people work from 9am to 5pm, but others start at 7am and finish 12 hours later, as I sometimes do, and may have to travel home, and if they get caught in a traffic jam it may well result in them not even making it to the polling station, or may make it only in enough time to stand in the queue, but not to get to the front of it by 10pm when the polls close. There were many people denied a vote in the last general election because they were still in the queue when polls closed.

But also, people need to have the energy, and however much they might intend to vote in the morning, after a long day they might simply forget, or they might by the end of the day only care about getting home and getting food and rest, or they may have only a few hours in between finishing work and needing to go to bed and have other things to do, not leaving much time to vote. Admittedly, postal voting might alleviate this, but some people do not know what their working day is going to be like the day of the poll. The way round this is for polling day to be a public holiday, such that most people have a day off and thus have time to go and vote.

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