Jueves 15 de Agosto de 2002, Ip nš 22

Sceptical voters may be allowed to vote for no one
Por Michael White

The electoral commission which oversees Britain's polling booths has bowed to the sceptical public mood about politics and decided to consider letting voters put their X against "none of the above."

Last night it announced that "positive abstentions" will be part of its latest review of electoral practices and potential reforms that might make voting quicker, fairer and easier.

But the move was denounced as "a silly idea" which would reinforce negative attitudes and probably damage the Liberal Democrats and other alternative parties, according to a leading political scientist. Professor Patrick Dunleavy of the London School of Economics said studies suggest that when trust in the major parties erodes so does turnout. But third parties - notably the Lib Dems in Britain - gain ground.

"The effect of a 'none of the above' option could be very bad news for the Lib Dems," he told the Guardian. Other experts are likely to agree.

But the commission has concluded that last year's 59.4% turnout - compared with 71.4% in 1997, itself a post-war low - does not mean that Britons no longer care. It means they dislike the style of politics or believe their vote will make no difference. Abstention is worst among the 18 to 24 age group, though it is rising through the 20s into the 30s.

Among the other thorny problems the commission's staff are examining is whether candidates with surnames starting with a W or Y are at a disadvantage when competing with an Ashdown, Blair or Duncan Smith because the ballot paper lists them alphabetically.

The review will also consider an issue beloved of conspiracy theorists everywhere, that the use of serial numbers on each ballot paper, ticked off against a name on the electoral register by polling staff, means that - at least in theory - a voter's secret choice can be traced.

The findings will be subject to consultation with politicians and other interested parties, just as reforms on voting methods - e-voting and the use of shopping centres as venues - have been discussed and piloted with mixed success.

But the issue certain to attract the most attention barely a year after the non-voters thrashed all the competing parties in the 2001 general election is whether the disaffected can be lured to the polling station by the chance to register a formal protest.

  13/08/2002. The Guardian.