UK Lags Behind When It Comes to eDemocracy

14/07/2016 16:52

Brexit continues to prompt debate and discussion about the need to reform the UK's electoral system and engage more young voters in the democratic process. Would the result have been different, for example, if more 18-24 year olds had cast their votes? Recent figures from Opinium suggests the number of young people voting in the EU Referendum may be higher than originally thought but the figure is still significantly lower than over 65s voters, 90% of whom turned out to vote.

The debate around why there are lower numbers of young voters frequently comes back to the idea of disaffected youth who feel misrepresented and disenfranchised from the UK political system. But is it just disaffection keeping millennial voters away from the polling stations? A failure by government to understand digital natives and their desire to vote online is likely to contribute to the lower numbers of voters in this age bracket. Although technology allowing voters to cast their votes securely and efficiently online has been available for some time, uptake from governments has been noticeably slow and almost non-existent in the case of the UK. John Bercow's call for online voting by 2020, via the Digital Democracy Commission, seems ludicrously far off when we consider the pace of change and the types of technology already being used by prospective voters.

So why has the government been so resistant to the adoption of online voting - especially when you consider the huge advantages including a faster and more accurate vote counting process, greater accessibility for remote or disabled voters, prevention of human errors like over or under counting, multi-language support, greater convenience - not to mention greater engagement from younger voters.

Security has been a reoccurring objection, with some claiming it is too easy for hackers to break into online voting systems and increase the risk of election rigging. While standard encryption and decryption technology have proven to be more vulnerable to cyber-attack, advanced security including digital certificates, digital signatures, immutable logs and end-to-end encryption guarantee that voters are strongly authenticated, voter privacy is protected and election results can't be manipulated. So while the level of security is wholly dependent on which system is used, online voting can actually be more secure than traditional, paper-based voting and is proven to be more secure than postal voting.

Trust has been another well-cited barrier to the adoption of online voting systems by governments in the past. Will voters feel comfortable with a new, internet-based platform? And how do they know their vote has been cast and counted? Of course the introduction of online voting should be progressive and there will always be voters who prefer traditional methods, but governments risk losing out on a large proportion of votes, whether they are overseas or disengaged young people, if they fail to evolve and utilise technology.

It's not even as though online voting were new and untested technology. Governments such as Switzerland, France, Australia and the US, to name a few, are already helping voters overseas securely and privately cast their vote without having to rely on 'snail mail' or proxy voting. Australia, and specifically New South Wales, is a prime example as well as how persons with disabilities can now vote on equal terms thanks to the progressive deployment of online voting. Switzerland has been securely leveraging online voting since 2004, not only for government elections but for ongoing citizen referendums.

Additionally, many private sector organisations such as trade unions, shareholder groups and professional organisations, have adopted online voting options for their internal electoral processes.

With advanced security technology now available and the proportion of digital natives increasing all the time, the absence of online voting options seems to be almost exclusively about the UK Government's slow response to the changing needs of voters and very little to do with voter mistrust or information security. In a world where democracy continues to spread and migration is commonplace, in addition to increasing demand for online services from millennial voters, there will be an imperative to provide cyber voting as standard as a complimentary channel to traditional paper and postal voting.