TURNOUT was very low in Wiltshire’s police and crime commissioner election on Thursday - with only 15 per cent of the 500,000-strong electorate bothering to vote.
Statistics revealed at the count at the Oasis Leisure Centre this morning showed that out of an electorate of 514,854, only 81,477 or 15.83 per cent went to the polls.
In the Swindon borough, 23,669 of a possible 161,238 voters cast a ballot - a turnout of 14.68 per cent - and in the rest of Wiltshire it was 16.35 per cent or 57,808 of an electorate of 353,617.
The Electoral Commission was hoping for a turnout of about 30 per cent - roughly the average for a council election - but commentators say a number of factors came together to reduce the figure.
Coun Dave Wood (Lib Dem, Eastcott), who is also a campaign manager for the party, said he had heard some polling stations in Swindon and Wiltshire had seen turnouts comparable to parish elections, with only about 60 people having voted in a polling district of almost 2,000 people in Penhill by 7pm on Thursday.
He said a simple way to increase the turnout next time would be for the Government to grant parties free Royal Mail postage for some election leaflets, as is the case in general elections, to ensure people know who the candidates are and what they stand for.
He said: “People have said they don’t think they have had enough information to make a decision and that’s really because there’s just not been enough literature going out to people telling them what the candidates stand for.
“In a general election, people have one or two, maybe three, leaflets from each candidate saying what their policies are and what they stand for.
“For the vast majority of people, they have had nothing so a lot of people I have spoken to have said they don’t know enough about the position and the candidates and what they stand for so they aren’t going to make a decision whatsoever.
“The other real theme I’ve heard coming through is there are quite a lot of people across the country who don’t agree with the concept of police and crime commissioners. They think rightly or wrongly that it’s the politicisation of the police so they’ve protested by not turnout out.”
In the count of the second preference votes, 4,956 ballots were unmarked and a total of 5,308 papers were rejected for various reasons.
Justin Tomlinson, the Swindon North MP, said: “It’s looking like we have had a low turnout right across the country, not helped as this was the first time these elections have taken place, combined with the unusual mid-November election.”
Coun Jim Grant, the Labour group leader, said the election should have been held in May as there would have been better turnout due to better weather and lighter evenings, as well as the fact it would have coincided with the all-out council elections.
He added: I think the failure to have a free post for leaflets means people are completely unaware of their candidates and to be honest that there’s an election going on.“
Coun Rod Bluh, the council leader, agreed the election should have been in May: adding: “People are more like to go out and vote in May than they are in November. If you come home from work at 5pm in the dark, are you likely to go out again?”