A LACK of awareness, education and trust in the political system have been cited as reasons for Jersey’s poor voter turnout at elections – as it was revealed the Island ranks lower than any country in the OECD for engagement.
Jersey has faced criticism for its poor engagement for several elections now, with the voter turnout often hovering around 40%, although this number drops significantly for by-elections.
And a new report from an Island-based think-tank revealed that only 17% of those under the age of 35 voted at last summer’s general election, while just 16% of tenants cast their ballot. By comparison, Islanders aged 65 and over had a turnout of 53% and owner-occupiers’ turnout was 41%. The figures also highlighted that those living in urban areas were far less likely to take part in elections – with just 18% voting, compared to 40% in rural parishes.
Deputy Carina Alves, who chairs the Political Awareness and Education Sub-committee, said that the government could be doing a lot more to make people aware of their voting rights. She said: ‘My view has always been that there is a real lack of awareness and education around politics and people’s rights to vote in our Island which has been exacerbated by previous governments’ lack of action.’
Though she was born, raised and educated in Jersey, Deputy Alves said she learnt about politics only because her mother had an interest in the topic. She said that during her most-recent election campaign, she met ‘far too many’ people who did not know they were eligible to vote.
‘I feel that government departments simply do not communicate this vital piece of information enough,’ the St Helier Deputy said.
Those who move to the Island are eligible to vote only after two years’ continuous residency. Only those registered to vote are eligible, and while moves were made ahead of the 2022 election to allow online registration, there are still no methods to allow for automatic registration on the electoral roll.
St Martin Constable Karen Shenton-Stone, who chairs the Privileges and Procedures Committee, said that the low figures were ‘very, very disappointing’.
‘I wish I knew what the magic thing was to do to get them out voting,’ she said. ‘It’s very concerning to me and I think it’s absolutely critical to find out why people won’t vote.
‘We need to empower them and make their voices heard.’
Major changes to the composition of the States Assembly were made before the 2022 election, with the Islandwide office of Senator being scrapped in favour of 37 Deputies’ seats in larger constituencies sitting alongside the 12 parish Constables.
The move was designed to make the Island’s political structure simpler, with the hope that this would improve turnout.
However, during the campaign, many criticised the loss of the Senators, and there have since been calls to reinstate the Islandwide mandate. Though the election had seen a low turnout, Mrs Shenton-Stone said that changes in the electoral system in 2022 meant the States became much more diverse, with a higher proportion of female candidates being returned than ever before.
Sir Mark Boleat, who authored the Policy Centre Jersey report, said: ‘It’s really important that all sections of the community participate fully in the election so that policy-makers take account first of all in what they say to the electorate but also in what they do then [in office].’
Jersey’s voter turnout has lagged behind that of its neighbour Guernsey, where the turnout at its most recent general election was 79.7%.
According to the Policy Centre Jersey report, the main reasons that people gave for not voting in Jersey’s 2022 election were that it would not have made a difference, that they did not trust the political system, they were not interested in the election, or they did not know enough about the candidates.
‘It’s not that they can’t vote – they don’t trust the political system,’ said Sir Mark, who unsuccessfully stood in the 2022 election. ‘When I started this research, people said that’s because people are very happy.
‘The evidence doesn’t support that.’
He said that one other factor that might be at play is that people were not used to voting.
‘The evidence is that people not born in Jersey are more likely to vote than Jersey people,’ he said. ‘People who have come here from Britain are used to having voted in elections. It’s standard – people vote.’
Turnout at the last election was 41.7%, making it the election with the third-lowest turnout in the last 30 years.
On average, over the last 30 years, turnout has been 44.1%.