It’s time to embrace the digital age and introduce online voting

The popularity of clicktivism, e-petitions, and political blogs are evidence that people are willing to politically engage online.

The popularity of clicktivism, e-petitions, and political blogs are evidence that people are willing to politically engage online

How low does voter turnout have to be before it is declared a crisis in our democracy? Ten percent? Five? I would argue that we have been at crisis levels for a while now, at least since the turn of the century.

There are various factors contributing to low turnout which have often been debated and deliberated over, however I wish to discuss one of the more obvious ones: our method of voting.

Since the arrival of the noughties, we have all entered into what the history books may one day label as ‘the digital age’. The rise of Google since it’s formation in 1998 has brought a world of almost limitless information to our fingertips, making items that were once necessities such as telephone directories and dictionaries obsolete.

Three years later, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger launched Wikipedia, an easily accessible and often instantaneously updated version of those huge, chunky encylopedias.

Fast-forward another three years and Mark Zuckerberg and his college room-mates give birth to Facebook, revolutionising the way we socialise and organise.

Finally, just eight years ago, in 2006, twenty-nine year old Jack Dorsey sent the first ever tweet (to presumably no followers): “just setting up my twttr”.

Meanwhile, in amongst all of this, our democratic process in the UK has remained static. Whilst technology has leapt forward, realising new levels of potential and benefit to our lives, we have stuck with our same old method of voting – by ink and paper.

And whilst we have kept calm and carried on voting as they did in the late 1800s, turnout in the digital age has been on the decline.

Compared with 1945 to 1997, average voter turnout in noughties UK General Elections has dropped from over three-quarters voting to just less than two-thirds. The lowest turnout of all age groups has been for young people aged eighteen to twenty-five. In the last three General Elections, less than half of young people voted, with only 44 per cent voting in 2010. Contrast that with the 76 per cent of those aged over sixty-five that voted.

In case you haven’t guessed yet, I am making the case for online voting.

Picture, if you will, a child born today in 2014. In eighteen years time (or sixteen, if the Votes at 16 campaign is successful), that child will be eligible to vote for the first ever time. And what will the world be like in the year 2032? As I mentioned earlier, in just eight years we went from no Google, no Wikipedia, no Facebook and no Twitter, to millions of us relying on them every single day.

I do not possess the intellect to know how much further technology will advance in eighteen years (Google Contact Lenses?). However, I imagine, if it doesn’t already to us, voting by pen and paper will feel extremely old-fashioned and out-dated.

Thus, with regards to online voting, it is not a question of ‘if’ but of ‘how’ and ‘when’. Voting online would have universal benefits to those of all ages and abilities.

For parents with full-time jobs and children to feed, online voting would be more accessible. For those on low pay, working two jobs; online voting would be more accessible. For those who have a disability and struggle to leave the house; online voting would be more accessible. And for young people who Snapchat their actions, WhatsApp their thoughts, and Facebook their selfies; online voting would be more accessible.

On top of that, it can be done.

We have already proven that we can securely submit sensitive data online. In 2011, 3.6million of us completed the Census online for the first ever time. Millions of us are regularly banking online, and thanks to the likes of Amazon and eBay, we are transforming from a nation of shopkeepers to a nation of retailers.

Albeit in a different system, online voting has already been successfully implemented in Estonia, with almost a quarter voting online in their 2011 parliamentary elections.

In the UK, a much more ‘e-ready’ country, we can help lead the way for interactive, online voting. Although it would take a separate article to fully expand upon, measures can be put in place to combat fraud such as live monitoring of votes, unlimited voting where the last vote counts, and the same robust security systems that are used for internet banking.

The popularity of clicktivism, e-petitions, and political blogs such as this are evidence that people are willing to politically engage online. The present and the future is digital. The time for developing online voting is now. All that is missing right now is the will to make it happen.

So, I urge you to join the campaign for online voting and help fix the crisis in our democracy.

Areeq Chowdhury is chief executive of WebRoots Democracy

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9 Responses to “It’s time to embrace the digital age and introduce online voting”

  1. cynicalhighlander

    That will not improve the failure of our failed democratic state as postal ballots was supposed to do it will only increase the fraud element as postal voting has shown. 75% of votes cast don’t count now because of safe seats for Tory or Labour which is not democracy no matter how it is spun.

    Imagine A Better Scotland – Lesley Riddoch (Part 4/4)

  2. Dave Roberts

    It won’t work because of Tower Hamlets.

  3. swatnan

    Noything beats paper and pencil ballots and getting voters off their backsides and into the voting booth. Its called Active Citizenship.

  4. Tim

    Please educate yourself about the specific challenges of e-Voting before agitating for it’s introduction – it is pretty unequivocally a terrible idea. Ensuring that an electronic voting system is trustworthy is an intractable problem in theoretical computer science, and without a physical paper trail of ballots, it’s impossible to independently verify whether the tally is fair. This isn’t just a theoretical problem either – the electronic voting machines used in the US are manufactured by Diebold, a donor to the Republican party, and their machines have been shown to be insecure to the point where it is trivial for a third party to arbitrarily alter vote counts (whether this is by ignorance or by design is unknown).

  5. Jimmy

    Trouble is, they have a nasty habit of staying at home.

  6. Jimmy

    Indeed. Why bother to vote in most seats? The candidate is selected by a small bunch of party hacks, and we know the result of the election in advance. Only people in about 100 marginal seats have any impact.

  7. Pietro

    Contrary to the mission of this blog, you do not really provide any evidence of how the willingness to engage politically online is related to voting. More specifically, you never really establish a link between the ‘digital age’ and the crisis of democracy: you give us anecdotal evidence of the digital age, and then lament that the democratic process has been lagging behind the process of technological development. From the limited standpoint of online voting that you adopt, this begs the question: “so what?”. But I still think you are on the right track in that you see a link between technological development and social, moral, cultural and economic development concretely exists: whilst there is no simple technological fix to these issues, an analysis of technology can reveal a great deal about social relations. I strongly suggest that you endorse and practice the latter instead of the inverse – i.e. using a shoddy understanding of social relations to draw positive conclusions about a technology you don’t seem to know about.

  8. Leon Wolfeson

    The reason for the decline can be traced to our keeping FPTP, not replacing the voting system with one which would be open to massive fraud.

    Until you can deliver a system for evoting which has a *formal proof* of it’s resistant to tampering, as far as I’m concerned, you’re actually hurting democracy here.

  9. Leon Wolfeson

    That’s voting with electronic machines. Not evoting, which makes the former look safe and secure.

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