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Can Britain learn from Australia's Saturday voting?

Nick Bryant | 06:47 UK time, Friday, 7 May 2010

I've been watching the results of the British election come in from Canberra, where the British High Commission put on a breakfast at the National Press Club - which came with a mock-up of the front door of 10 Downing Street and a British bobby stationed outside. Despite scurrilous rumours that the policeman was, in fact, a "strippogram" and was about to go "Full Monty", I am glad to report that he remained fully-clothed throughout.

In those early morning hours, as David Dimbleby launched the BBC's coverage, the thing that struck me - indeed stirred me - was the sight of so many of my compatriots queuing up outside polling stations. Alas, then came the dispiriting news that many had not been allowed to cast their ballots.

My mind was cast back to the 2000 American presidential election, which I had the good fortune to cover, when polling stations in the richest nation on the planet looked more like a banana republic - the site of scenes of anger and dismay in Florida, most notably, which quickly ended up in court. The scenes from Britain looked more like one of our great exports: a period drama. People are already wondering why the mechanics of British elections look like they come from the Industrial Revolution rather than the digital age.

Australia has featured in this election a couple of times, mainly when the debate has switched to immigration, and Gordon Brown has laid out how the Labour government brought in a points system based on the Australian model. We have also reported from New Zealand on how the British Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, has been studying what the country does in the event of a hung parliaments - which has happened in every election since the country introduced proportional representation in the mid-1990s.

But both Australia and New Zealand might offer the simplest of lessons when it comes to staging an election: hold them on a Saturday - a practice followed, as well, by many other European countries. The Australians always prepare for the highest of turn-outs, of course, because turning up at polling stations is compulsory. But one of the main reasons that polling stations never get overwhelmed is because the voting is staggered throughout a day when many people do not have to go to work. New Zealand also brought in Saturday voting in 1950.

So a simple question as Britain contends with the confusion of an election which has not produced a clear-cut result: is it time for the UK to move from Thursday to Saturday?


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