Election Universe

7 reasons not to ditch the electoral technology debate in the UK just yet

7 reasons not to ditch the electoral technology debate in the UK just yet
June 02 2015, 21:38

The UK general election might be over but the debate on electoral technology remains relevant. Here are 7 good reasons to keep discussing the role technology could play in UK elections.

1. Successful online voter registration. For these elections, the electorate was able to register online, which according to the numbers appears to have helped boost signups. On the last day to register, a record 485,012 people registered to vote online, while only 16,000 used the post that day. More than half (51%) of voter registrations, since the online option was introduced, were made by voters aged 16 to 34.

2. Engaging voters through mobile campaigns, to encourage turnout proved possitive. A text message campaign created by the Electoral Commission (EC) was one of several initiatives devised to engage voters. The EC also joined forces with the National Union of Students (NUS) to launch “Register a Friend,” a viral campaign that encouraged young people to get their friends to register to vote.

3. The problem of disenfranchised voters abroad has not been solved yet and that requires more debate. British expats claimed postal vote delays disenfranchised them, and as long as the system does not improve (for example with better digital options), the problem is likely to keep on growing. The group Webrootsdemocracy.org goes even further, claiming that the  Queen’s speech has hinted at the possibility of introducing an online voting option to make elections more accessible to overseas voters. According to the Electoral Commission, 113,742 people applied to vote either by post or by proxy for this Election.

4. Reading polls on digital voting. The statistics in the Viral Voting report published in March 2015 showed that 74% of adults in the UK shop online; 53% bank online; 55% read the news online; and 60% of the population socialise online. So, people have started asking themselves why not voting online. A YouGov poll found that 57% of all adults want the opportunity to regularly vote online on key issues and legislations debated in parliament; and this percentage jumps to 72% among voters aged 18 to 24. A significant majority (60%) of this younger age group also said they wanted to be able to vote online in the general election.

5. Parties and government officers should re-evaluate their digital participation and engagement with citizens. Tech commentators such as Richard Jones, CEO of EngageSciences, called for a digital change in UK politics. “Westminster must use technology to offer ordinary people a real voice in the process. Representation has to reflect the technology of today, not of yesterday; that has to be the only route for democracy to survive and thrive.”

6. Costs! The group WebRoots Democracy claims online voting would save £12.8m by reducing the cost of each vote by a third. A report authored by this online voting activist team, found that in addition to boosting voter turnout to 79% and increase the accessibility of voting for those with vision-impairments and other disabilities. “It could also result in a better-informed electorate and a significant reduction in the number of accidentally spoilt ballots,” they noted.

7. Leaders and administrators need to guarantee the multiple voices in this debate are heard. For instance, some steps have already been taken as it is the case of House of Commons speaker John Bercow, who led a report into digital democracy, calling for trials of online voting by 2020 – and perhaps allowing people to vote digitally in elections that year.

Image by Sebastian96 via Pixabay