Was the election of Police and Crime Commissioners the most expensive election in history?

This is an old post which I posted on another site following the Police and Crime Commissioner elections in 2012. Reposting here in the light of this week’s election of a new Police and Crime Commissioner in South Yorkshire.  Turnout in South Yorkshire at 14.7% was slightly less than the 15.1% turnout in the national PCC elections in 2012.

[19 November 2012] Last week’s elections for the new posts of Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales was marked by a record low turnout. With only 15% of voters going to the polls this was markedly lower than the previous lowest turnout for elections in the UK which was 23% for the European Parliament elections of 1999, and is significantly lower than the lowest general election turnout of 59% in 2001.

The low turnout may also mean that these were the most expensive elections in history. The cost of organising the PCC election was £75million, and the total number of valid votes cast was around 5.3 million. This amounts to a whopping £14 for every vote cast. This is a significant sum in itself, but if we put this figure into some kind of context the PCC elections begin to look like very poor value for money indeed. The 2010 UK general election cost the public purse around £99 million, which amounts to around £3 for every vote cast. Perhaps more remarkably, observers on this side of the Atlantic often look askance at the massive sums spent in US Presidential Elections and the re-election of Barack Obama two weeks ago was no exception. The BBC estimates that almost $6 billion were spent in the 2012 Presidential Election which amounts to around $18 per vote cast. At the current rate of exchange this comes in at around £12 per vote, slightly better value for money than the PCC elections. Of course the bulk of US election spending is generated by private finance, whereas the £75million spent on the PCC elections represents the cost of these elections to the public purse.

Ironically, the low turnout may in part be explained by the unwillingness of the Government to invest more in these elections. The Electoral Commission, the independent body which monitors UK elections, had highlighted the risk of a low turnout which would result from holding elections in November, for a post nobody had heard of, with candidates expected to canvas across districts more than ten times the size of parliamentary constituencies. Moreover, they were particularly critical of the Government’s decision not to allow candidates one postage free mail-shot to all electors, something which is made available to candidates in UK general elections. This would have added an estimated £35million to the cost of the PCC elections, however, if it resulted in an increase in turnout it may well have proved to be better value for money. Democracy is not cheap; elections, referenda, public consultations, and indeed parliament all cost significant sums of money. Nevertheless, investing in these things is not only vital for the health of our democracy, it may also be good value for money.

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