What might a good by-election in Witney look like?

Witney, a bit flooded
Witney, Oxon

By-elections strike me as ideal occasions with which to experiment to raise turnout or just make elections better.

Here’s my ideal list of what happens next in Witney.

Every resident in Witney would be notified that there is a by-election coming up. They would be referred to the parties for nomination opportunities, or given details as to how to run as an independent. This would be a simple process.

Every party would have an open primary to select their candidates. 

Once candidates are selected and nominated — including independents — their details would be published in an open data format.

Candidates would openly crowdfund for their campaign budgets, which would be capped. Open data on their fundraising and spending would exist in realtime.

Open hustings events would occur across the constituency, with care taken to invite groups less engaged in politics. BBC Oxfordshire would host a by-election website with video statements, open Q&As and other biographical detail on candidates. 

Every household would receive a printed booklet and an email with statements from the candidates.

On election day, every resident would get an SMS reminder to vote, and a link to where to find their polling station.

The booklets mentioned above would be available in the polling station to help people decide. It would be possible to register at the polling station on the day.

The results would be announced and immediately published in an open format, so they can be compared across time and across constituencies. 

A better election.

What have I missed?

7 replies on “What might a good by-election in Witney look like?”

The candidates would write a short paragraph on their policy positions and this would be fact checked and checked for fairness by an independent panel before being added to the ballot paper.

Ballot papers would be printed in several different ways each changing the order of the candidates, neutralising any effect of alphabetical order.

Hi Joe, I noticed how the order of candidates on the ballot paper makes a difference in the recent council elections in Woking, Surrey. It was an all-out election due to boundary changes, where voters in most wards got 3 votes and had to choose 3 borough council candidates. The main parties put up 3 candidates in each ward. Based on the voting outcomes, I think that what happened was that a lot of voters didn’t use all their 3 votes on the same party, so it was quite common for them to vote for 2 Conservative candidates and 1 Lib Dem candidate (for instance). When this happened I think they nearly always chose the top 2 Conservative candidates (by alphabetical order) and the top Lib Dem candidate (by alphabetical order). This is the only explanation I can think of for why the results ended up the way they did, with nearly all results favouring those with names early on in the alphabet.

Don’t know if anyone’s done any research on the impact of alphabetical order on the ballot paper?

Certainly does look fascinating, and looks like there’s a real, measurable effect from order in the ballot paper. Thanks Joe! Maybe randomizing order of names is something for your election wish list.


You certainly have the right idea, it’s a noble effort, Thank you, but the very devil is in the detail. Increasing turnout is the most important item, AFAIAC, but it’s not immediately clear how elections are “made better” ? I have assumed we are not talking about local elections ?

Her are some considerations so far unaddressed :

1. The BBC alone would be very wrong. This organisation is biassed.
2. Who invites “groups less engaged in politics” and why ?
3. Who pays for the booklets and who sends the mails ? What about persons without e-mails ? Same for SMSs.
4. Notifying every resident in Witney is wasteful, better to notify every voter.
5. Do you believe political parties would comply with your suggestions ?
6. Who will decide the “caps” for campaign budgets ?
7. Who will organise all this ?
8. Who will administer all this ?
9. Who will pay for all this ?
10. Is there really time to accomplish all this during a by-election ?
11. Maybe registering at a polling station is forbidden by law ?

The logistics of all this scheme are formidable. There’s the question of the suitability of personnel who will “decide” everything and a fair amount of over-information. Are so many Witney voters truly so ignorant of how the present system works ?

Maybe you are inspired by the fairly obvious voter fraud apparent in places, that might be a better target for action ?

Thanks a lot for your time.

Hello Headhoncho — thanks for all feedback!

Couple of points from me:

– I do think it’s about more than just turnout. I think people having a better understanding of who they’re voting for is an improvement, even if turnout unmoved.

– I think we should be spending more state money on elections — I think this is good spending.

– Your points on logistics / laws absolutely fair, but was just trying to be a bit blue-sky at this point. But ideas are easy…


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