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How Selfies Can Support Democracy

14/04/2016 15:15

The selfie. Whether it's narcissism or a great expression of happiness, they've ballooned in volume since the arrival of the smartphone. Lots of people hate them, especially when the selfie-taking device is extended like some bastardised claw from a Blackpool arcade machine. But, whether loved or derided, the selfie could be just what we need to bring democracy, and thus sovereignty, to younger voters.

If you haven't seen it, the selfie has started to appear in banking systems. This is because it's proving to be one the most secure ways to prove you are who really are to access your money. It makes sense. No one, unless you've gone through a Face Off style robbery, can be you. At least not until we have robots who can replicate us. In any case, if it's good enough for your bank account, well, it should be good enough for a ballot paper.

The bare facts are there from the last general election. The youth vote (48.5%) turnout was way behind the number of ballots cast by their vote-loving forbearers (77.5%). What's behind this disparity? Probably a whole cocktail of things including voting not being a day off of work. Above all, I think a big part of the turnout issue in the younger demographic is that we no longer let them vote via a way that they do everything else.

For many young people, Snapchat and YouTube are more familiar than a ballot paper. In fact, it may well be the paper process in itself that's the problem. The process is so alien, so wizened, it just doesn't feel right. When you're more familiar with WhatsApp and Instagram than wielding a pencil, it's going to be frustrating and annoying that something is stuck in the past.

It may seem small but highlighting this process awkwardness is important. If people, even a few, are put off voting by the archaic system that has to be used, then that's disenfranchisement served raw. Ok, there is a postal vote, but how many teenagers send letters instead of social media messages? Even that's dated. If everyone, rightly, has an equal vote, it is unjust, or even unequal, to make it harder to express your vote.

Yes, ballot security would be a big concern. Yet so is trusting that friendly lady in a cardigan with your ballot paper. It's amazing, when you think about it, how much personal data people already share freely online and with other social media apps. If we're willing to move with the times in other areas, there's no moral reason why we might not do so with our votes. It comes down to selfies proving their worth. We can't judge them without investigating and trialling their potential.

Also, there's a rather delightful side of thinking about having a voting app. Imagine swiping left or right on your ballot. It could raise a smile as you reject the one despise. On top of this, digital ballots would open up short pitch videos to candidates. This would either be a good or a bad thing for the politician. Either way, it's a good thing for democracy.

Such gamification of the vote might be enough to arouse the interest of younger voters. Personally, I think that's patronising. I think plenty of young people have a view on politics. I just think the way we force them to express themselves is antiquated, off-putting and thus anti-democratic.

And it's not just young people. Plenty of people with greying hairs live on their phones as well. If there's a chance that selfies can support the vote, then selfie voting should be trialled and we can judge it from there.

Selfies have the chance to make democracy easier for everyone. If the cost and security issues work out in a trial, then they should be added to the postal ballot as a way of voting.

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