Turnout thresholds are a bad idea
I’m working from home today, and before I started work I had a look at my personal e-mails. One was from Unlock Democracy, asking me to protest at rumours that the legislation on the Alternative Vote referendum will include a 40% threshold – to win, the ‘Yes’ campaigners would not only have to get over 50% of those voting, but also score over 40% of those entitled to vote.
I agree with Unlock Democracy, and I’d find it hard to improve on the arguments they put forward:
“These proposed amendments are as ill-advised as they are undemocratic. International experience shows that thresholds on turnout just stifle debate. Supporters of the status quo don’t have to win the argument; they just have to convince people to stay at home. If this threshold was applied one MP is on record saying the Yes Vote would require an 80% turnout to succeed. Unlock Democracy finds it disappointing yet unsurprising that some MPs are trying to rig the deck in this way.
“People should feel confident when casting their vote that their opinion is being listened to and that their ballot counts. Public distrust of politicians is already at an all time high. Nothing could be worse for restoring trust in this era of ‘New Politics’ than the perception that MPs had rigged the result of the referendum.”
Of course, trade unionists will recognise the eerie similarity to the CBI’s proposals for strike ballots. A couple of thoughts occur to me; one is the way in which restrictions on liberty are connected – the CBI proposals may well have prompted some MPs to come up with the same idea for the AV referendum.
The second thought is that I hope that people who recognise the unfairness in one context will also recognise it in the other. I hope that campaigners for electoral reform and sympathetic MPs will make a point of opposing the 40% threshold for industrial action. Equally, trades unionists, whatever their views on the Alternative Vote, should recognise that a threshold is just as bad for the referendum.