Election Universe

UK Commons Speaker: “E-voting would not be an earth shattering step.”

UK Commons Speaker: “E-voting would not be an earth shattering step.”
June 16 2014, 09:12

uk polling station

John Bercow, House of Commons Speaker, has said that e-voting in polling stations or at home would not be an earth-shattering innovation.

Well, actually, it would if you look at it literally, considering the UK’s current voting system. But what John Bercow is actually trying to do is to facilitate a switch to electronic voting, rather than hinder it.

His point is that we’re completely comfortable with technology in other areas of our lives. And voting is simply another area where technology can help.

Mr. Bercow heads a commission into the future of digital democracy. In a speech to a London think tank, he noted current voting methods lack transparency and aren’t ‘conducive to increasing the desire for the citizen to participate or trust the system’.

“Yes, of course, there are well-rehearsed arguments regarding electronic and internet voting and the integrity of the ballot box must be absolutely protected,” he argued.

That said in an era in which many people… treat their mobile phone or tablet as an extension of themselves… would it really be an earth-shattering change for voters to vote electronically in a polling station. Or at home, as they do so now with a postal vote.

Supporters of e-voting say that it could help to improve turnout at elections. In last month’s European elections, only 34% of eligible voters took part.

There is no direct evidence that electronic voting, whether via the Internet or using machines in polling stations, improves turnout. However, if a system is completely accurate, transparent, auditable and secure, it would seem likely that people would trust it more – and be happier to use it.

In Belgium, where voting is compulsory, voters used an electronic Smartmatic voting system supported by a voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT). Turnout was 90%.

Whilst turnout includes spoiled votes (according to the electoral commission’s website) a more accurate electronic system would certainly increase the number of valid votes. And because technology can help more disabled people to vote independently, that’s another way in which it could help get more people to the polls.

At a time when politicians in the UK, Europe and, indeed, all over the world, are trying to get voters to rebuild trust in political bodies, it makes sense that voters would appreciate any politician who worked for a better, more transparent system of getting those politicians into power.

Finally, overlooked in the BBC’s coverage of Mr Bercow’s speech, is the matter of fraud. There were over 50 allegations of electoral fraud the Police were asked to investigate in the recent UK elections. Biometric registration would help solve problems with ghost voters and multiple votes. And an accurate electronic system would have certainly helped in Tower Hamlets, where the count was close, and the recount was subject to much speculation about whether everyone present at the counting location was supposed to be there.

Perhaps the time is coming for the one of the world’s oldest parliamentary democracies to be one of the most technologically advanced.