National Democracy Week on Eastminster

It’s National Democracy Week! 

For the first time, 2-8 July 2018 has been designated as a week-long celebration of democracy. Events are being organised across the country to celebrate democracy and encourage democratic engagement.

The week marks the 90th anniversary of the 1928 Equal Franchise Act, which gave women the same voting rights as men. That legislation was a victory for the Suffragettes who fought over many years for equality.

Central to the spirit of the Suffragette movement was the idea that we should take a critical look at our elections work and always look for ways in which they can be improved.  One hundred years on, rules and procedures can become archaic and not fit for purpose.  Incumbent governments can be slow to reform rules that suit them, and even force through changes which give them a better chance of being re-elected.  How elections are run can often be discarded as political issue as legislative time is focused on issues such as Brexit and the economy.

It is through elections that we choose who represents us, who governs us and it is our only chance to get rid of a government or parliamentarian.  It’s our job, as critical citizens, to hold them to account.

With this in mind, this week we are publishing a series of blogs from UEA students about how elections can be improved, mostly, but not always in the UK.

  • First off, Chris Skingley looks at referendums.  If there is one electoral event that will define Britain’s recent political history then it was the Brexit referendum of 2016.  In his blog, Chris argues that high thresholds should be reached in referendums if major changes are to be made.
  • In the second post, Beth Davies looks at voter turnout amongst young people.  Despite talk of a youthquake at the 2017 general election, this remains a problem.  She draws from focus groups with young people to consider how an youthquake could take place that is much higher up the richter scale.
  • The third post is about prisoner voting rights.  National Democracy Week marks the centenary of the extension of the franchise to all women, but not everyone can vote because of practical or legal impediments.  Successive UK governments have persistently denied taking actions to enable prisoners to vote.  Megan Bennett makes the case for full enfranchisement of prisoners in the UK.
  • In the fourth vote we consider whether the right to vote should be extended to 16 and 17 year olds.  Looking at the USA, Nick Stone argues that maturity is the the key the argument after all.  A common argument made against allowing 16-year-olds to vote is that teenagers are not mature and responsible enough to be trusted to make a sensible decision; but statistics show, that in many ways, American teens (as well as their international counterparts) are better behaved and more responsible than ever before.
  • Finally, Sam Kenward reviews whether Northern Ireland should consider a new electoral system in light of the the difficulties of setting up a new executive. Stick, don’t twist, he argues.

Oh, and you can also read about UEA lecturer Hazel Marsh’s experience of observing the historic Mexican election first hand.

Feel free to comment and join in the debate!  We are extremely proud of all of these – and all our other students – there was simply too much work to publish.

And above all don’t forget to register to vote!

Dr. Toby James is Head of Politics and Senior Lecturer at the University of East Anglia.

Image credit: Wikipedia

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