On 12 December, 24m of us trudged to polling stations — many braving wind and rain.
Another eight million cast postal votes or had proxies.
But about 20m UK adults did not vote at all. Some probably really did not want to, but for many others, it was just too inconvenient.
A General Election costs about £150m to run (the final bills for 2019 are not yet in), and a big part of this is operating some 40,000 polling stations. Tens of thousands of people (many local government staff) are paid around £200 a night to count the paper ballots. Some returning offices get an extra fee of £20,000 or more for their work.
On top of this, we taxpayers provided the candidates with a staggering £40m of free postage — they each get one leaflet sent at our expense. In terms of providing information, this is hopelessly out of date and is an environmental disaster. Vast amounts of paper go straight from letterbox to waste bin — unwanted, unopened, and unread.
Most of us now shop, bank and do our taxes online. In 2015, the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy said that by 2020 secure online voting should be an option for all voters. It has not happened.
It seems crazy that, although the technology now exists, we still elect our MPs with potentially insecure, inconvenient and expensive paper and pencil — when we could put the whole thing onto our phones.
Digital voting systems are in use in Ontario in Canada, New South Wales in Australia, as well as in Estonia and Switzerland. These pioneering systems still have some teething problems, but the technology is advancing rapidly — try it out by looking up iVote Australia.
It could be a reality here too. In the UK, we have some 38m vehicles on the DVLA database and can instantly find out if a registered car is taxed and has its MoT. To securely register 52m electors and then and record their votes would be complex and costly, but it is certainly achievable.
The upsides are huge: cost savings for each election, no more postal voting, the possibility of higher turnout, and, of course, instant results at 10.01pm. No more all-night election shows.
We could extend this urgent digital update to electoral communication. We have endless rules about leaflets, posters and party political broadcasts, but the use of social media is essentially uncontrolled. We need legislation to ensure that the originator of election communication is clearly identified and the spending on digital media is reported and controlled
We are soon to spend £5bn on rebuilding the Palace of Westminster in the defensible belief that UK democracy is admired around the world and that our physical buildings should be live up to that reputation. For much less than that, we can also build a radical new digital voting system, which, when perfected, we could probably sell to other countries.
Our elections would be cheaper, safer, faster and more accessible. And we could create a brand new export product, with the UK as a world leader.
Main image credit: Getty