Last week, the nation turned out in record numbers (45 per cent) to decide who would run their local councils. In London, that meant voting Boris Johnson into what Ken Livingstone probably thought was his office for life. Some time earlier, the Open Rights Group had called for volunteers to be part of an election observation …
when 45% turn out is considered record numbers.
The point about election observers is slightly misleading: it makes it sound as if counts have been taking place in private.
As a candidate in the fine ward of Wolvercote for the best part of ten years, I've been accustomed to being at counts with my agent - and guests - to witness the prolonged democratic process and take part in the debate about whether votes should count. Politics (and political) students are often amongst those taken as guests.
I find it to be a humbling experience to see the votes tallied.
Barking up the wrong tree
While observing the vote count is certainly important I would imagine most fraud has already taken place by this point.
The fact that you simply had to write down names and send them to the council to get voting cards (with very little validation) and then they don't check IDs when voting... of course you could do it all by post too just to be extra safe when committing fraud.
One thing we should introduce over here (as well as PR, fixed term Parliaments, a single written constitution, proper separation of the legislature, executive and judiciary - really I could go on) are transparent ballot boxes. As it stands, voters have no way of knowing if the box they're putting their ballot into has been pre-stuffed. After the various postal voting scandals of the last few years the electorate cannot be expected to trust the politicians and the electoral authorities further than they can spit.
Oh and getting rid of numbered ballots that can be tracked back to individual voters would be a major step forward for British democracy.
..ranks upon ranks of Fujitsu scanners..
Now we know that Alexandra Palace is their foothold location - the communications mast / landing beacon should have been the give-away.
I for one welcome our paper chomping overlords.
"Further, in accordance with the rules election observers agree to abide by, this article has been provided to The Register free of charge."
Is that to say that your not salaried then? Are Reg "staffers" in fact mere "freelancers"?
Inquiring minds need to know....
According to a letter in the Times today, there were an awful lot of spoilt ballots.
``are transparent ballot boxes. As it stands, voters have no way of knowing if the box they're putting their ballot into has been pre-stuffed."
I'm unsure as to how a transparent ballot box gives you an advantage. The first voter of the day is of course assured that the ballot box hasn't been stuffed at that point. The officials will also be satisfied (but don't they check the box before using it? I would hope so!) However, subsequent voters have no idea. Unless of course we all turn up early and watch all day. Note that this is also a DoS attack, since only so many people can fit into a polling station.
Furthermore, could a transparent ballot box be considered to violate fairness? Let me first define fairness as ``no partial tally of results may be obtained until the official count." Can leaking an approximate number of ballots which have been cast in a particular polling station violate this property?
@Les and @ Mike
Les: Think you might want to rephrase things there - all it says about 45% being "considered" record numbers is that 45% turnout is a record. I think what you mean to say is "speaks volumes when 45% turnout is the best we can do". Personally, I think 45% is rather good.
Mike: outvoted by the Lib Dems, conservatives AND Greens? you must be so irritated :)
Mugabe should voice his concern over the voting process and ask the UN to ensure its re counted fairly before the intimidation can begin.
The Times article says:
"412,000 faulty second preference votes that were not counted."
It depends what they consider flawed I would guess, I didn't enter a second vote as I thought the whole process was pointless, would that count as a flawed second vote in their eyes?
As Mike Taylor points out, the various interested parties have been acting as election scrutineers for as long as I've been involved (I was first elected to Rugby Council in 1987, and have been at most election counts until 2002 when I jacked it in).
Of course, for a candidate the count is the final part of a four week campaign where, in my case, I would typically have knocked on 1,000 doors. Through election day, we'd have been tallying which pledged supporters had been through the polling stations, followed by three hours of frantic door knocking to winkle out the last few through the evening. We were always over-particular in our observance of election laws, removing rosettes as we entered the polling station with elderly voters.
We counted the votes mechanically just once - I forget who the company was, but not a major IT player. They gave us a good price, as it was bleeding edge, but it went remarkable smoothly. As Lucy describes, a screenshot of disputed ballot papers would be shown - but then we'd always have a few to deal with when counting by hand too. Returning officers have a big thick book of rules, including pages and pages of examples of incorrectly filled ballor papers and how they should be interperted.
As has been rightly stated above, the potential for electoral fraud in this country is not in the count itself, it's (particularly) in the registration and postal voting systems.
Reg staffers may or may not be freelancers, but I'm pretty sure Lucy Sherriff doesn't appear often enough here to be considered a staffer - there are plenty of freelancers on the Register
Accredited observers have access that I don't think candidates and agents have. For example, they can go into polling stations and talk to voters.
Still counting by hand
Okay, it's using scanners, but it is still by large a manual process.
WHY - when you go to a polling both, isn't there an electronic console - press the buttons, job done, vote counted - then when the stations shut at 10pm, 10mins later everyone knows the results - during the day you know who is in front, etc. etc. (although releasing that figure maybe unfair as it might cause people to go and vote for someone as someone else has taken a lead)
It wouldn't be hard, and as long as an idiot didn't implement it, backup/failover/redundance/etc would all be built in.
"Others looked as though they could have been closed initially, but that the tape had not stuck properly"
Only in England (or possibly central Africa).
Sorry they're not paying you, Luce...
``WHY - when you go to a polling both, isn't there an electronic console - press the buttons, job done, vote counted"
There's no need for me to write a response, this cartoon sums it all up:
(Maybe Paris would believe it is secure...)
Exactly what is the difference between a piece of sealing tape that hasn't stuck down properly and one that has, but has subsequently been peeled back a bit to allow some later stuffing?
Quite possibly. I didn't read the paperwork that clearly (how difficult is it to mark 2 crosses and otherwise not do anything to the paper) but it's possible that yours is one of the votes that didn't count at all, due to being "incomplete"... However, that's a guess nothing more.
It's stupidly easy to "cheat" with a system that has no externally auditable trail. If the machines were to print out a barcode with your vote encoded (and tell you to keep it for a week or so) then that would give independent observers a chance to verify that it was valid... You could also make it possible to check on the web that a specific vote had counted the correct way (do it via a random ID generated on the day, printed on the barcode, and you can't trace it back to an individual either).
All in all, yes it's quite possible... But the audit trail becomes a lot harder once you don't have paper copies. It's also likely to be a lot more expensive. :)
On a more serious note (@James Dunmore)
Developing a secure electronic voting protocol is hard enough. In fact, elliciting the requirements is hard enough! Here's one set of properties which an electronic voting protocol should satisfy:
* Privacy: the way in which a voter cast her vote is not revealed to anybody.
* Receipt-freeness: the voter is unable to prove that she voted in a particular way.
* Fairness: no partial tally of results may be obtained until the official count.
* Eligibility: only authorised voters may vote and at most once.
* Universal verifiability: anybody can check that the published tally really is the sum of the votes.
* Individual verifiability: a voter can verify that her vote was really counted.
That list isn't complete, you could for example add:
* Invisible abstention: the voter herself should be the only one person who knows whether she participated.
Numerous other properties have been discussed in the literature. It is not known whether an e-voting protocol can even achieve all these properties simultaneously.
I have yet to even consider actual implementation...
If you want evidence as to why its not easy, take a look at what the guys at Princeton have been up to.
re: Still counting by hand
You *have* followed the issues around electronic voting in the US, haven't you? Diebold, who run one the most common voting systems in the country, have frequently been accused of allowing dubious and insecure practices,and it was revealed that the voting machines run Windows CE and are based on Excel and Access, which doesn't exactly offer a great deal of confidence with regard to their overall security and reliability.
It has been frequently said that an open, secure and accountable electronic voting system is possible, but the reality in most countries would be that the project would end up with the lowest bidder from the approved list, so I think on the whole I would rather stick with paper than have EDS helping me choose my MP.
There was a government-funded trial in several areas last year, I was unfortunate enough to be observing the one in Bedford. It was a complete disaster - the scanners didn't work, there was insufficient scrutiny and really no-one knew what they were doing. The ORG were present there and wrote a full report, I also published the problems that I observed.
So I'm glad to see that absolutely no lessons were learned.
Cost vs. benefit (in the UK at least)
Pure computerised voting:
Cost - difficult to secure, recounts impossible, no way for voter to be sure vote is counted correctly.
Benefit - you find out the result 5 mins after the poll closes.
Pure paper voting:
Cost - take a while to find out who won, recounts take a while.
Benefit - fairly difficult to massively rig, voter sure of who they voted for, recounts easy if time consuming.
Computerised voting with a bit of paper for the voter and a bit of paper for the counters:
Cost - difficult to secure, voter not entirely sure vote will be counted correctly in electronic count.
Benefit - find out result quickly, recounts possible using paper trail, voter sure who they voted for, paper can be counted to ensure electronic vote tallies.
As elections don't happen very often then paper is fine, if we are really bothered about finding out at 22:05 then we should go for the 3rd option.
In my business, if I don't deliver what the customers want, I starve or go bankrupt. I can't moan or berate my customers for being disinterested in my products.
It seems to me that politicians are in a uniquely privileged position and I'm unimpressed (I don't know an obscenity strong enough to really substitute for my diplomatic wording here) by their complaints about low turnout.
I have a solution: we know the going rate for the job of MP, Minister and so on. That rate should be paid to the incumbent pro-rata to the amount of the electorate that ACTUALLY VOTED for the lying cheating bastard. No, not the percentage that voted, the percentage of the registered electorate that actually voted for that person. So, if the PM's salary is a notional 150,000 or whatever and 40% of a 30% turnout voted for him, he gets 12% of the rate.
That's fair don't you think?
@ AC, coming fourth
Yup, fourth seven times in a row, too.........
If MP's get paid in proportion to the number of people who voted for them, the base rate and expenses would increase to compensate.
I think MP's pay should be brought into line with teachers, nurses, firemen and the police. After that, if MP's want a type of expense, two of those groups should get it first. If they want a pay rise, it should be no higher then what the others get.
MP's get expenses for a London home. I do not see them returning those expenses when they are voted out. We have student loans. Why don't we have MP loans?
"So, if the PM's salary is a notional 150,000 or whatever and 40% of a 30% turnout voted for him, he gets 12% of the rate."
And this would encourage high quality representation - how exactly?
You pay peanuts, guess what you get.
On the other hand, you can't be a*&^ed to vote, you get what you deserve - no say - and if you don't like the incumbent, get out of bed next time and vote for someone else.
As for the topic: pure e-voting machines can't be constructed which meet the current UK requirements for an election. Plus public trust in such a system would be close to zero. Plus it would cost a mint. So scanning a paper copy is by far the most realistic way to operate.
That said, I betcha humans can count crumpled paper votes faster provided one avoids stupid multiple-vote models. Stick to OPOV and counting is easy.
Plus most people don't /have/ enough of an opinion to have a 2nd choice....
``As for the topic: pure e-voting machines can't be constructed which meet the current UK requirements for an election."
Well change the law! We don't even get privacy with the current system.
(Every ballot has a serial number which is linked to your name)
a waste of time
I heard almost a week before the vote that it was already a done deal that Boris would win, and that Ken had already either congratulated Boris or had written his speech congratulating Boris.
Voting in the UK is as reliable as voting in the US and equally pointless
Now why don't they count the non-voters as votes of no-confidence. You could hardly call half a dozen turds 'choice', so it's no wonder that 55% didn't vote.
The "vote for someone else" option only works if there is actually somebody on the ballot you consider worth voting for. The fact that the other bastard would have been worse is of little help when the current bastard's a complete pillock.
Until they introduce a "no suitable candidate" option that actually does something, I'll probably continue to vote in about one election in four AND bitch about elected officials.
"You pay peanuts, guess what you get."
People holding public office as an actual public service, rather than people holding public office as a career because the only way they can make a living is as a parasite on the backs of the taxpayer.
I'd rather have monkeys in charge than tapeworms any day.
The "changing the signs around" trick is rather good. Assuming it actually was done by local yobs for the sake of a laugh - which seems unusually imaginative and socially involved for them - it's one to remember. There are all sorts of tricks used in the US, for one, to discourage turnout in areas unlikely to vote for your candidate (especially poorly-educated ethnic minorities). Telling them their vote is on a different day, that they need their passport to vote, that sort of thing.
PS Can we cut out the Zimbabwe comparisons? It's completely ridiculous and unfair to compare a ruined economy with rocketing prices ruled over by an unelected, aging despot, with Zimbabwe.
(mine's the one with the MDC leaflet - Movement For David Cameron or Movement for Democratic Change, I forget which)
"On the other hand, you can't be a*&^ed to vote, you get what you deserve - no say"
It annoys me when people say if I don't vote then I can't complain. Well I still pay plenty of taxes - and THAT is what gives me my right to complain. Not an arbitrary vote once every four years where another lying politician gets on the gravy train (no matter which party, they are all the same).
Arguments about turnout and dodgy politicians
All those who argue about low turnout and getting to choose the best of a decidedly dodgy bunch miss the whole point. Democracy is a pretty awful form of Government. The only reason we are stuck with it is that no-one has come up with anything better. Why is democracy so bad? Well, primarily because voting is a popularity contest, not a competence contest. Also, in order to develop the overall support needed for high office, you have to dedicate your life to politics, rather than actually studying the things you will be running. It's very rare to see a career economist as chancellor, and when you do get a doctor as Health Secretary, you find that doctor has minimal experience in the profession because they moved to politics early.
Political history is littered with decisions that were made that were popular, but really damaging. Take the 98% top rate of tax in the 70s. It was a hugely popular measure, but all that happened is all the top people in business, finance and entertainment moved to other countries, the Brain Drain was hugely damaging to the UK throughout the late 70s and early 80s. And once people had moved they didn't come back when things improved, so we lost our most successful people and the UK suffered.
Why do we still persist with democracy. Well it actually has 1 thing going for it which makes it highly compelling. There is a mechanism to remove people from office. Since this is the main reason to vote, you can then understand why we generally get low turnout. Unless a particular candidate (a) really offends you and (b) has a chance of winning; generally people don't really need to vote.
In the end, Churchill had it right when he said, "Democracy is the worst form of government, with the possible exception of all those forms of government that have come before."
Amusing Spoilt Ballots
I was an observer a few years ago, I agree with the article that everyone should give it a go, it was very interesting to watch.
The most amusing part was how some of the ballots had been spoilt, obviously people wanted it to be known that they could and would vote, but not for anyone on that particular ballot. You had the usual pictures of smiley faces, or drawings of genitalia, however the best one was someone had put a letter in each box spelling B. O.L.L.O.X
There was great debate as to whether the X counted as the vote (It didn't and wasn't counted)
@ anon coward
Great points there.
May I say, I've often thought that at least half the problems with democracy is that the government is chosen from sitting MP's (or TD's as we call them in Ireland) who are still responsible to their constituency. As a result their ability to run the country is hampered by their responsibility to a small area.
I've thought that the process of choosing government should be made more transparent - by declaring what the cabinet is going to be BEFORE an election and having it as a separate vote. No-one on the cabinet would be permitted to run in any of the constituencies.
At the very least, it would allow like for like debates, and would somewhat remove the personality contest because it's very difficult for a committee to have charisma.
@ Dunstan Vavasour
I know you mate.. I worked was on the launch team at the Rugby Observer in 1991.
But back to IT, having spent seven years in Holland and actually been able to vote in their local elections, they have a nice little voting machine, all of which is performed privately in public, just like the polling stations here.
You pres the button alongside the candidate (s) you are voting for and hit the vote button. At the close of the polls, all these machines send their data to the town hall and you ascertain a result very quickly. Same could and should be done here and you should have to take your (not introduced yet ID card) biometric passport along with you to prevent fraud!!
Here's how to do electronic voting:
First compile a list of everyone and their wider social network: their friends, neighbours, family, work colleagues and so forth.
Then pay a company lots of money for a secure electronic voting system.
Finally, pay another company lots of money for a proprietary DRM system which is only usable under a certain version of Windows and which leaves Mac, Linux, BSD, RiscOS and OS/2 users out in the cold. (Or queuing up to use a machine in an Internet café or library, which probably won't work anyway.)
Let everyone vote. Give them receipts showing who they voted for, if you like. Most of them will end up lost or discarded anyway.
Publish the results on the Internet, subject to DRM of course. The DRM is *partly* a blind. Every voter must enter their own unique code. In return, they get to see the *complete* election results -- including everyone's name, address and who they voted for. The results can't be printed nor left on display for too long (hence the part of the DRM that *isn't* a blind), to guard against misuse.
You can announce whatever the hell result you like (as long as it's favourable to you and represents a plausible turnout); it need have no correlation with how people actually voted.
The clever bit: Every voter gets to see their own vote, and the votes of their social network, exactly as they were cast; however, the votes of others outside their social network are *altered* to make the totals up to the desired figures. (This is why you need a unique voter ID code: everybody needs to be shown a slightly *different* list. DRM is a good front for this.) So I can see online that my grandad and my mum both voted Tory, my aunt in Porthmadog voted Plaid Cymru, my ex-coal-miner uncle voted Labour and that dippy tart down the street with the blue hair voted Green Party. All these people would also see *my* vote recorded correctly if they looked, and none of us are surprised.
And the only way to demonstrate any wrongdoing is to ask a lot of strangers who they voted for, which comes with its own attendant risks.
Voting, fraud & observers
My oh my, so many things:
- Transparent ballot boxes: We have those here, so the procedure is to fold your ballot and insert it this way.
- Electronic voting: Given the 2006 mayhem, I doubt anyone would trust it. However, one of the manual voting premises (you can recount) was shot down during our own 2006 election, arguing "legal reasons"; oh so similar to the US's 2000 "election". So maybe manual voting isn't everything... and would you really trust a Windows voting machine?
- Observers: We need 'em, but not just during counting, but also during actual voting. Mexican history shows that most traditional election fraud took place on the poll sites, which is the reason the votes are now counted on-site. (Ironically, one of the 2006 controversies were that the tally count certs did not match the actual vote count!)
Oh well, at least it seems that the UK has a better electoral system... :)
@On a more serious note by BS
And anyone talking about checking who votes and anonymity.
Sorry, when I say it wouldn't be hard, I mean it wouldn't be rocket science. And I agree, it would probably end going to the lowest bidder on some rubbish windows box with an excel backend - but still, in an ideal world, it is a relativity simple system, and I'm amazed we don't do something better.
Anyway - I'm not talking about online voting here - still talking about polling booths, which I can turn up with a piece of paper someone shoved through my front door a few weeks ago - I wouldn't log onto a voting booth, I just record my vote - just like you do with the paper.
Yes - checking that your vote is counted is harder, but at the moment, what guarantees do we currently have that your vote is actually counted 100% correctly?
As someone mentioned, the both could even print off a unique id that you look up on the net the next day, and check that what you put in matches the website. How about the polling machine printing off a ballet card too that is also counted (for the first few times it is run) and see if the results are comparable.
Anyway as "Niall Campbell" says - they can do it on Holland, so why not overhere?!
In a country where more people vote for Big Brother, the whole voting processes need to modernise and gear up so that you can somehow one day vote from the comfort of your front room
(and before anyone starts the whole "you be bothered to vote, people died for your voting rights", etc., I agree, but unfortunately that attitude isn't going to convince the 35% of the population who don't vote).
I've heard about the voting machine in Holland. Rop showed me how he could eavesdrop on all the votes cast using a cheap bit of kit! See:
@A J Stiles, I like it ;-)
@Daniel B: Even with folded ballots some information is leaked - how many ballots have been cast. The question is then: does this matter?
Paper trail is not for th evoter
If you give voters anything which records who they voted for then you have destroyed the election by allowing those who threaten or buy voters to check that they did what they were told to do.
We see it every day when MPs walk through the lobbies in parliament - open voting means corrupt voting.
Paper trails are there for recounts if something goes wrong with the electronic system, not to take home to the landlord.
Your set of requirements for e-voting is impossible to meet, specifically:
* Receipt-freeness: the voter is unable to prove that she voted in a particular way.
* Individual verifiability: a voter can verify that her vote was really counted.
In order to prove that my vote really was counted (and counted properly), the system would have to show the change my vote made in the tally. With that info, I could prove that I voted for candidate X, and therefore get my kickback.
Why is individual verifiability a requirement for e-voting when it's not for paper voting?
So you think the cabinet should not be MP's.
Seems you want a "US style" vote for Pres./V.Pres., everyone else in the executive appointed (I've always wondered how exactly that is democracy. I suppose cos appointments have to be ratified by elected officials, but still....).
And as the pre-election cabinet appointee's can't stand as MP's, what do they do if their party loses the election ? Quick trip to the job centre perhaps ?
Or would they become the shadow cabinets for those defeated parties ? Oh what joy, more unelected officials, at the tax payers expense, of course.
It seems to me that what we have in the commons, for MP's and the cabinets and shadow cabinets may not be perfect (actually very far from perfect), but it's better that what you are suggesting.
On the other hand, the House of Lords........
That one there behind the donkey jacket, the red one with ermine trim.
Why US Elections Are Different
The US sees an election as something which gives a magical authority to the elected. Not every place elects a dog-catcher, but there can be an incredible number of elections, all on the same day.
It's no wonder that they've been using machines to collect and count the votes, for a long time
Compared to that, London last week was simple and easy. You might be able to add a few more checks, and you need to make sure the ballot-box seals work better. But it's still simple enough that humans could do the counting.
"individual verifiability" in paper voting is an intrinsic function of the paper ballot. All the ballots are counted (as verified by opposing observers), therefore the vote of every individual voter has been counted.
It is _physically_ impossible to observe that an electronic ballot has been counted, therefore it's impossible for any voter to know for sure that his vote was counted.
For those of you who haven't figured out why e-voting isn't a "modern" update to the existing system, imagine for a minute that the e-voting machine is in fact a person. You turn up to vote, and are directed to a voting booth where you have to tell a person what your vote is and they keep a running total on the back of an envelope. There's a system in place to swap "vote collectors" from places over 200 miles away, so there's no concerns about "privacy", as they don't know you, and you don't know them, and because they are keeping a running total as they collect the votes, they can announce the result as soon as the polls close.
Would you feel that this was a vast improvement over current practice? Or that just replacing the person with a computer would "fix" it?
A big difference between Cabinet members in Ireland and Cabinet members in the UK is the size of the pool they're selected from.
A cabinet in Ireland is picked from the governing parties in a house of6 166 members. In recent years, that means that it's picked from a pool of approximately 85 people. There are 15 cabinet members (full Ministers), plus about 20-25 Junior Ministers (or "half cars" as they are known in the gombeen world of rural politics in ireland). So basically half of the TDs from the governing party/parties are going to have some sort of Ministry whose budget they can use to throw money at their own constituency. And these "perks" are distributed on a geographical basis rather than on the basis of the quality of the TD. (How else would that gobshite Cullen be appointed to the Cabinet?)
In the UK, they have more than 4 times as many MPs, and they also have a fair number of "safe" seats, where (in theory at least) a technically qualified but politically untried outsider can be reliably elected, so it's not unheard of for an MP to be able to get re-elected, even if he ignored his constituency "duties". (John Kelly, TD for Dublin South until 1987, may be the only TD got away with that!)
``Your set of requirements for e-voting is impossible to meet, specifically: Receipt-freeness and Individual verifiability"
This seems quite bizarre, but cryptography can help us here. Okamoto has developed one such scheme which claims to provide both receipt-freeness and individual verifiability: http://citeseer.ist.psu.edu/129743.html
Chevallier-Mames, Fouque, Pointcheval, Stern & Traore have claimed that [in their standard model] the following properties cannot be met simultaneously:
* Universal verifiability and privacy
* Universal verifiability and receipt-freeness
(It may of course be possible to achieve these properties if different assumptions are made. I haven't looked at what they define as the "standard model," hence I cannot offer judgement as to whether such a model is realistic.) See http://www.di.ens.fr/~fouque/pub/wote06.pdf
For further academic research you may be interested in the following survey papers:
Further links can be found from Helger Lipmaa's voting page:
My girlriend is dutch and went off to vote - first time in her life she had voted using paper ballots, and without anyone asking for some sort of ID showing that she really was an eligible voter.
I find it quite amusing that everyone is getting their knickers in a twist about crypto, and privacy, and audit trails, and all the other tiny details, when it's trivially easy to stuff the electoral roll with ghost voters and have your party agents cast hundreds of votes each on your behalf. What good is it building a perfect system to guarantee that JD Farnsworth's vote is captured accurately and privately, if JD Farnsworth is a ghost? Get the basics right first, people.
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1687496.ece - at least 1 million ghost voters in England alone, if by some mischance the Times has it accurately.
Paper, pencils and cardboard is the only way
Paper ballots, pencils and cardboard ballot boxes with tamper-proof seals have worked exceptionally well in every Australian election that I've observed.
Here's a few other tips the UK might also want to consider:
- hold your elections on SATURDAYS, when most people aren't at work. Then you can close the polls at 6pm and get a result before midnight
- give people the flexibility to vote at multiple locations, at least within their borough/region
- make voting compulsory
- replace first past the post with preferential voting
- elect your upper house (it is the 21st century, for f***ks sake)
Then perhaps you could look forward to turnout rates comparable to the 94.76% achieved at the last Australian Federal Election in November 2007 and governments that can actually claim a degree of legitimacy as they're elected with the approval (or at least grudging acquiescence) of at least 47% of the electorate. Add on an upper house elected on a different basis that (most of the time) the government does not control, and you've got a pretty democratic system with some good checks and balances.
Compare that with the 21% of the electorate that voted for Labour at the 2005 British general election and the 0% that voted for anyone in the House of Lords and you get a feel for just how undemocratic this country really is.
The House of Lords isn't supposed to be democratic. The main point behind the House of Lords was that, as hereditary "nobility" the laws enacted by Parliament would not have as much effect on them as on the general public, so they could act as the closest thing to an "independant advisor" as you can have here.
Which in turn would mean that, if the HoL thought something was a Bad Idea and voted it down, the Government of the day could not force through something that was bad for the General Public.
Unfortunately noblese no longer obligee'd as much as it used to, so the HoL was seen as a gravy train for rich toffs who had no right to tell the Democratically Elected Government what should, or should not, be allowed into law, and a population that has never really grasped the idea of the social contract between a "Landed Lord" and his "subjects" agreeing that the HoL is an unnecessary anachronsim that does nothing more than prevent The People getting what they deserve...
So now we have The People gettting what they deserve, with GodEmperor Tory Blur's Brave New(Labour) World where a Government that seems increasingly at odds with it's governees can force through anything it likes using the Parliament Act, with no chance for anyone to protest.
And when the HoL does raise a concern (like over the abysmal wording in the "extreme porn" legislation), our caring, sharing Prime Minister forces it through anyway.
Y'know, with the Parliament Act, there really is no real obstacle to El Gordo changing English Law and making the current rules of 'no more than 5 years between elections' a thing of the past... who can stop him?
The House of Lords? No, he'll roll out the Parliament Act and undo the screws on their Zimmers.
The Public? Sorry, more than 12 people in one place is a threat to Public Order (since the Poll tax riots), likely to damage Social Cohesion and could be harbouring one or more Terrorists, so stand by to be picked up by the Thought Police for suspicious behaviour.
No danger of a military coup as the armed forces are too busy fighting wars of dubious justification overseas, and they don't have the manpower or equipment any more anyway.
Mine's the one with the one-way ticket to Rochester...