Dear Prime Minister,
I hope you are well.
I am writing to ask what the Government plans to do tackle the abysmal voter turnouts in elections across the UK, and in particular, to ask when the Government will finally drag our democracy into the 21st century, and introduce online voting.
It is often said that "the first duty of Government is the defence of the nation", however in a country such as the United Kingdom, shouldn't that be the second duty? Shouldn't the first duty of our Government be to uphold democracy within the State? Otherwise, how can we claim dictatorships are illegitimate, if they claim they are simply ensuring the defence of their nation?
First duty or not, it's clear that Governments past and present have been failing to uphold democracy within the UK.
The numbers of those taking part in General Elections has declined by 13 percentage points in this century compared to the last, and on the current rate of 0.3 percentage point growth, it would take us 300 years to reach the highest level of General Election turnout this country has experienced of 84%. In the election last May, 40% of the voting age population did not take part at the ballot box. That equates to around 20million British citizens not taking up their right to vote. Is that a sign of a strengthening democracy? Or one in decline?
The picture is unfortunately much less aptly painted for other elections and democratic decisions within our country.
Analysis included in the 'Secure Voting' report, of which I attach a link, shows that an estimated 95% of the UK's over 19,000 elected politicians were voted in on turnouts of less than 50%. Staggering, don't you think?
To take a few examples, the average voter turnout in the most recent local council elections is just 36%. It's the same figure for the European Parliament elections, too. However, undoubtedly, the worst example is the elections of Police and Crime Commissioners, of which the average turnout is less than 15%. Surely their legitimacy is questionable if they're only backed by a fraction of an already appallingly low turnout?
With regards to referenda, the last nationwide referendum was on the Alternative Vote System in 2011. Only 42% of people voted then. The only other nationwide referendum was in 1975 on the European 'Common Market'. 65% turned out for that one, but that was 8 percentage points fewer than the General Election in the preceding year. If we are to look at these examples, combined with the turnout for the European Parliament elections, turnout for the In-Out EU Referendum could struggle to surpass 50%.
It isn't fair to say that people are "apathetic" or just "don't care" as some commentators may have you believe. These are important elections, important decisions. People do care about the direction of issues such as social care, education, and policing, it's borderline crazy to claim otherwise.
So we need solutions, and sustainable ones at that.
Over the course of this century, every industry (businesses, not-for-profits, and even the Government) has embraced the reach and possibilities of the internet to increase efficiency, accessibility, and creativity. To great effect, as well.
In the UK, over half of adults now bank online, socialise online, and read the news online. We live in an increasingly digital nation, and polls show that, if introduced, online voting would be the most popular method of voting. Other polls show that the majority of the British public support online voting, and even want to vote online in the upcoming EU referendum.
I won't go into detail about the arguments for online voting, you can read at length about those here, however some of the highlights are the potential for increased voter turnout, reduced costs of elections, and the creation of an accessible method of independently voting for those with vision impairments and other disabilities.
It's not enough to say that we need to make "politics matter more", as first of all, that's not a sustainable solution, and secondly, it already matters to people. We need to make the political process more engaging, and one of the answers to that is to modernise voting to make it more in line with the way the population live the rest of their lives.
We need a solution that can withstand and adapt to what will be an increasingly digital future. The smartphone generation of 13 and 14-year-olds today will be voting in the next General Election in 2020, and whilst young people only make up around 20% of the current population, they make up 100% of the future. The truth and statistics show, that the future trends are towards paperless services. Services which are 'digital by default'.
The Government's response on online voting has rightly pointed to wanting assurances on the method being 'robust and really hard to hack', and I believe the WebRoots Democracy report published today, backed by MPs from across the political spectrum and written by experienced global experts and academics in the electronic voting field, provides those assurances.
So I ask, when will our Government introduce online voting for elections and what is it going to do to tackle some of the appalling levels of voter turnouts?
I look forward to your response.
Many thanks and kind regards,
Follow Areeq Chowdhury on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AreeqChowdhury