South Yorkshire PCC poll: Barnsley apathy suggests low turnout

BBC's Len Tingle explains the voting system to shoppers in Barnsley Bewildered Barnsley: The BBC's Len Tingle explains the voting system

Will the police and crime commissioner elections break all records for low turnout?

The Electoral Reform Society has forecast as few as one-in-five of the electorate will bother voting.

That could be a tad optimistic judging by the reaction I got on the streets of Barnsley with less than a week to go before the polls opened to choose the £85,000-a-year commissioner for the South Yorkshire force.

Few of those I buttonholed in the town's outdoor market had any intention of voting. I did not find a single one who could tell me the name of a candidate.

Barnsley bewildered

It is not as if Barnsley is one of those places where voting has gone out of fashion.

At the parliamentary by-election just 18 months ago 36% of voters turned up at the polling booths or sent in their postal ballots.

That was considered a very low turnout at the time but could now be a dream scenario for the PCC candidates across the entire country.

Barnsley's bewilderment was increased when I asked my randomly-selected shoppers if they had any idea that they will be able to put two crosses on the ballot paper.

Eyes glazed over as I explained the "Supplementary Vote" system which will be used to vote in our commissioners.

"If nobody gets more than 50% of the vote on the first ballot then the top two candidates will go to a run-off. That's when the second preference votes come into play. Of course, you don't have to make a second choice if you do not want to support any of the other candidates," I explained.

By this point most people had staged their own run-off, suddenly remembering they were in imminent danger of missing their bus. I suspect even the ones who had come to town by car gave me the same excuse.

So not that many heard me continue.

"If the candidate you put as first choice gets through to the run-off then your second preference is not counted. All the other second preferences are added to the totals of the top two candidates and the winner is the one with the most votes."

Fairer system?

Across England just North Yorkshire and Staffordshire will be using the traditional "first past the post" system where the winner simply has to have the most votes. That is because just two candidates are standing in those areas.

I had just one Barnsley shopper who stayed around long enough to ask me the obvious question.

Why are we using this system?

Well, the theory is that a "Supplementary Vote" system makes it fairer for a smaller party or an independent candidate to have a chance of winning.

For public elections it has been used just once in Yorkshire. It resulted in the then little-known English Democrat Peter Davies being elected as Mayor of Doncaster in 2009.

Len Tingle, Political editor, Yorkshire Article written by Len Tingle Len Tingle Political editor, Yorkshire

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  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I do not want my Police Commisioner to be affiliated to a political party so I have no intention of voting as the independents in my area are not remotely qualified. So what shoice do I have, vot for a no hope independent or allow yet more politics into the police ? The hwole thing is abad idea, voters should stay away in protest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    As a woman I will go to the polling station as my right to vote was hard fought for.However,I will be spoiling my ballot paper as this idea has come from guess where? Why do we always have to follow the US by the nose?.
    The vast majority of candidates are standing on a political platform which is one reason I don't like it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Would someone explain to the person who came up with this idea that voting itself doesn't improve anything. Improvements come through increased moral and better policing technologies/management.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    We've had no information on who's running and nothing through the door. But I've gone and looked for myself at the candidates on the appropriate websites and I'm probably a good bit more informed about the candidates running in my area than most. And yet, I'm not going to vote. I can't see the point in these elections and my protest is not to take part in them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Living in Doncaster we have had no information about who is running, what they will do, why this is important or why we should be bothered. It is sad that the only way you can find out is if you call a telephone line or tackle a website, meaning that most will never even look.... especially when this is in small print inside a less than interesting leaflet looking like a takeway menu.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Is it really apathy or complete disinterest in elections that are being dominated by the political parties?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    It's hardly surprising a low turnout is expected.

    To my somewhat limited knowledge of the subject; it seems like a hugely overpaid job with somewhat limited actual responsibility.

    Does seem like another waste of money. Well intended but misguided methinks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I am torn- I ALWAYS vote when offered the chance. I don't agree with the decision to have a PCC. Politics and policing seem to me to be a poor mix. If I vote I am implicitly condoning the election. If I don't vote then I am implicitly saying I don't care about the outcome. I feel powerless. I still haven't decided whether to vote never mind who I will vote for.


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