PUBLIC SECT0R: Electoral watchdog slams local council PR strategies

The Electoral Commission is recommending a raft of improvements to the way councils promote voting, in a critical report on current efforts.

In its first report on local campaigning, called Making an Impact: the local promotion of electoral issues, the commission highlights a range of problems in council attempts to boost registration and turnout.

While the most effective forms of comms are revealed to be direct mail, personal contact and media relations, too much time is spent producing posters that few people see and council newspaper articles that few people read, the report concludes.

The Commission's report also shows a poor relationship between electoral administrators and PR staff. It adds that comms concentrates on boosting postal voting and registration, rather than general voting issues.

There is also poor evaluation of comms activity with 60 per cent of electoral administrators not knowing whether posters promoting registration had any effect. 'Thus the question remains why do they do it?', the report says.

Suggestions for improvement include giving electoral services departments a dedicated publicity budget and better liaison with press officers.

Electoral administrators should make direct contact with local news editors, use alternative formats for the disabled, communicate directly with local businesses, schools and universities and involve politicians more.

Examples of good practice include Liverpool and Sheffield City Councils which set up dedicated youth websites on voting. Initiatives like this are seen as key to the commission, which found that in May's local elections only one in ten 18 to 24-year-olds voted.

The commission is also currently reviewing the way elections are financed.

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