"We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we're going to live on the internet!" - The Social Network, 2010
We have a problem in the UK with engaging young people to vote. In the last three General Elections, the turnout for young people aged 18 to 24 has been less than half; the lowest of all age groups. This needs to be addressed and I have a solution. We need to modernise our democracy and introduce an online voting option for all UK elections.
The government are not realising the full potential of the internet to revamp, evolve and improve the way we conduct elections. Over half of the UK population are socialising on Facebook and over 10million of us are busy on Twitter. Last year, three-quarters of us shopped online and everyday millions of us click onto news websites to find out what's happening in the world. Despite this, the method of electing our politicians is still by paper, in a booth, down at the community centre. Whilst this method is fine, it's hardly 'with the times'.
The internet is a place of almost limitless potential. Being able to vote online can do more than just offer voters another way to tick a box; it can revolutionise the way we elect our representatives and change politics for the better. A dedicated election website can provide voters with all the information they need to make fully informed decisions. The ballot paper could be more than just a name and a political party; it could have candidates' manifesto pledges, their position on key issues, and even the voting record of the incumbent. A wiser electorate can only lead to greater accountability of politicians, selected on their ability to represent.
But how will this engage young people to vote, I hear you ask? Actor and comedian, Russell Brand has recently been touted as the 38-year-old voice of young people offering the advice that people should not vote. Whilst I agree with Brand on various points he raises about out-of-touch politicians, he could not be more wrong about voting. The reason that young people do not have a strong voice in politics is not because they vote, but because not enough of them do. This is where I believe a modern approach to voting can change that.
To engage young people, they need to be reached out to. Politicians currently campaign extensively on Facebook and Twitter in an attempt to win votes and secure another term in office. However, the problem with this is that they are largely reaching out to political activists, party members, and other already politically engaged individuals. With an election website fully integrated with social media, the elections can blaze across the internet and reach out to millions with automatic tweets, statuses and hashtags sent out after people vote, linking back to the election website. The 2009 Citizenship Foundation Survey of 4,000 young people found that young people would be more likely to vote if they could do so online. If more young people vote, their voice will undoubtedly become more powerful and Westminster will be forced to listen.
The Government has already proved that sensitive data can be submitted securely online. In the 2011 Census, 3.6million UK citizens completed their census forms online for the first ever time. Over 800,000 of these were young people. Estonia, the first country in the world to use internet voting in legally binding general elections, has demonstrated that it can be done and that it works. In the 2007 Estonian parliamentary elections, 5.4% of votes were cast online. In 2011, this figure increased to 24.3%.
You need only look at the growth and popularity of e-petitions to see that the UK public are willing to politically engage online. Last year, almost half a million of us signed an e-petition calling for Iain Duncan Smith to prove his claim that he could live on £53 a week. From 2011 to 2012, 17million people visited the UK government's official e-petition website. The evolution that petitions have undergone needs to be applied to our elections.
The idea of people power has to become a reality. Our democracy needs to be one where people are not ignored but encouraged to speak out. Young people in this country however, are ignored. The hike in university tuition fees, withdrawal of the education maintenance allowance, and the potential benefit cuts for under-25 year olds is evidence of this. Online voting will by no means abolish political apathy, but what it can do is create a more informed, engaged electorate that can fully hold their politicians to account and force a truly representative democracy.