I think it’s best if I am honest at the beginning of this article. On the subject of online voting, I am not wholly convinced that the pros outweigh the cons for online voting.
In effect, I can see the merits of both sides of the argument. Doubtless, some of the arguments used by my esteemed colleague Thomas Randall in his upcoming article against online voting will relate to security and the possibility of computer data malfunctioning. Perhaps, he may also worry about privacy and online voting potentially jeopardising the Ballot Act of 1872 which set out the individual elector’s right to a secret ballot.
These concerns are all valid and would be wrong to reject out of hand as scaremongering. However, there are counter-points which mitigate these concerns and strong, compelling arguments for online voting being a way to improve the state of British politics.
Firstly, the security critique of e-voting is based upon the pretentious sandcastle foundation of the current system being, to steal Theresa May’s slogan, ‘strong and stable‘. The long-running saga over the 2014 Tower Hamlet mayoralty race, where the winning candidate was found guilty of ‘corrupt and illegal practices‘, is one example of our current system is far from watertight.
Introducing e-voting may strengthen against fraud in our democracy by enabling abolition of the postal vote. In the 2015 General Election campaign, the electoral commissioner charged with investigating Tower Hamlets described the ability to commit fraud through postal ballots as ‘easy’. Switching to offering online voting could lead to the removal of this unsatisfactory element of the current system.
Similarly, the idea of e-voting being more expensive is a commonly propagated myth. The cost of the ballot papers themselves and the paid electoral registrants at 50,000 or so polling stations across the UK outweighs setting up an online system – e-voting, by not being a paper form, would decrease costs.
Tackling the possibility of serious hacking of an e-voting system, potentially irrevocably tampering with the result, I believe this concern is exaggerated.
Estonia, a country Russia is often accused of having ‘designs’ upon, especially in relation to the significant Russian-speaking minority population there, has pioneered online voting. Using a national identity card with a computer-readable microchip, Estonian citizens can vote from any computer in the world. In the several rounds of national elections held since, Estonia has not once found its elections subject to hacking, suggesting security concerns about online voting, whilst valid, are inflated.
Having challenged the criticisms of e-voting, let’s finish by remembering the key, number one argument to support e-voting: increasing ease of access for voters and thus, voter engagement.
Two years ago, 35% of registered voters did not end up voting and even in the highly politically charged EU referendum last year, nearly 13 million registered voters did not vote.
Of course, some of these figures will be caused by deaths between registering and the vote actually occurring, and people who actively choose to not bother. However, there will be some in those figures who simply couldn’t spare the time that day. Online voting could help them immeasurably.
Then there will also be many in the “didn’t bother” camp who would be more politically engaged and vote if the online voting option was available. Time and time again in surveys it has been shown that online voting could significantly increase participation in politics, particularly among young voters.
Introducing e-voting doesn’t stop you from being a traditionalist, popping down to your local polling station and using a short, stubby pencil to mark your political preference – the last Estonian parliamentary elections saw 70% of voters do this. E-voting may not change the way you choose to vote, but it would greatly enable the ability of others to vote and that surely, is something to consider, if not support.