Online Voting Necessary For True Digital Democracy

21/09/2016 17:50

Digital democracy has taken centre stage of late. Indeed, the recent launch by Jeremy Corbyn of Labour's digital manifesto and plans to 'democratise the internet' show a realisation by politicians and parties that technology must be central to policy and should enable citizens to interact with the democratic process in a more participatory and meaningful way.

The manifesto's 'Digital Citizen Passport', designed to give individuals a secure and portable online identity as well as aid the process of interacting with public services online, along with its 'Massive Multi-Person On-line Deliberation' objective, which plans to utilise technology to make popular participation in the democratic process easier and more inclusive, arguably give an indication of the demand from citizens for greater choice. When it comes to interacting with government and engaging in political discourse, there is a desire to utilise the same types of technologies and smartphones which are readily adopted in other areas of people's lives.

Add to this a recent comment from Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society who said in a report analyzing the EU Referendum: "there is a huge appetite out there for the public to engage in crucial constitutional issues - and that appetite hasn't gone away simply because 23rd June 2016 has been and gone" and we might conclude that the need for greater online participation, or digital democracy to coin a phrase, should be a top priority for UK government. If, as Corbyn mentioned in this digital manifesto launch speech, 'the terrain on which opinions are formed is changing', shouldn't the implementation of digital platforms for all types of interactions with government be put in place as a matter of urgency?

The option to vote online, for example, would provide a complimentary channel to traditional voting methods and would undoubtedly offer greater choice to voters who wish to cast their votes privately and securely online. Unfortunately, the Digital Democracy Commission does not anticipate eVoting as an option for quite a while, giving a recommended date of 2020 for implementation.

Of course, the issue of online security always rears its ugly head and rightly so. Jeremy Corbyn mentioned online voting within his digital manifesto speech, but said Labour would only consider it when they could be sure of its reliability. Many critics believe online voting systems are too vulnerable to malicious attacks and voters need to feel confident that their vote has been cast as intended, recorded as cast and counted as cast. There is, however, a clear distinction between online voting using basic and advanced information security - the latter perhaps providing a more secure method of voting than postal voting which everyone currently has access too.

Although standard encryption and decryption methods have proven more vulnerable to both internal and external attacks, advanced measures which incorporate digital certificates, digital signatures, immutable logs and end-to-end encryption guarantee that voters are strongly authenticated, privacy is protected and election results and votes cannot be manipulated by hackers. This level of security ensures even internal election staff, with particular system privileges, would be unable to manipulate data without being detected and immediately stopped.

So if the technology now exists to offer secure and authenticated online voting options for voters, what are we waiting for? The UK Government has been resistant to the adoption of online voting despite 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.

In Corbyn's digital democracy, and in a world outlined by the Electoral Reform Society where there is a huge appetite to engage in political debate and discussion, the requirement for a secure digital voting platform, allowing voters the option of casting their vote privately and securely online, is both inevitable and necessary.

Ian Brook, Director, Northern Europe, Scytl