Tomorrow, the UK heads to the polls, and millions of us will be putting pencil to paper to exercise our democratic right to vote. But as soon as the ballots are counted, voter turnout will again come under scrutiny.
In recent weeks, young people have been implored to vote, with many pundits speculating the results could turn out quite differently if under-24s voted in large numbers. Turnout among that group has hovered around 40 per cent for 25 years, and we’ll find out on Friday if this year proves any different. If not, perhaps it’s time to look at different measures. In today’s digital era, in which more and more of our lives are conducted on the internet, surely it’s time to ask if we should be voting online too?
Numerous countries around the world, including Australia, Canada and Estonia, have successfully conducted polls via electronic voting, yet the UK has resisted a rollout. Developing a secure online system for the UK should be a priority. If we were to design a voting method from scratch today it would almost certainly be done online, with appropriate security and processes in place.
There are so many benefits to voting via a digital platform. While travelling to a polling station and putting a pencil cross in a paper box is a treasured institution in the UK, going back hundreds of years, for a new generation it seems incredibly archaic.
In the mobile age, why should voting be confined to polling stations? Why should the elderly or disabled need to travel to cast a vote? It’s 2017 – shouldn’t they be able to vote from the comfort of their own homes? Electronic voting can reduce constraints of both time and geography on a citizen, making the electoral process more flexible and convenient for everyone.
The young, in particular, are used to conducting their lives online, and this demographic often has the lowest turnout. Unsurprisingly, there’s evidence to suggest electronic voting increases voter participation. WebRoots Democracy claims an online vote would increase the turnout of 18 to 24-year-olds to 70 per cent.
The critical thing to remember is to ensure any new method is secure, and makes electoral fraud harder, if not impossible, to achieve.
A successful digital voting method may involve the voter using a trusted electronic ID such as a digital credential in a secure mobile phone app, or even an eVoting card. One great example of successful online voting is in Estonia, where all citizens have been able to vote online since 2007. Through iVote technology, secured by our company Gemalto, an anonymous envelope encrypts an individual’s ballot. When the voter signs in to cast their vote, their personal data (or outer envelope) is added to the initial encrypted vote.
To ensure a voter’s true will is reflected in their vote they can vote again electronically during advance polls, overriding their past answer rather than duplicating their vote.
Crucially, the encrypted vote and digital signature are kept apart, meaning it would be difficult to identify a voter and link them with a particular choice, adding an extra layer of privacy.
Of course, the digital world poses challenges as well as opportunities to elections. We’ve seen accusations of Russian interference in recent US and French elections, as well as warnings to politicians from the National Cyber Security Centre about the risk of hacking. In light of these claims, scrutiny over results is likely to increase. But using the internet to improve turnout and protect against fraud, if done securely, is surely a must-have in the highly digital UK.
Naturally there are challenges to overcome to digitise the electoral process but, with the right infrastructure in place, there is no reason why the UK should be left behind.