As the results of today's local elections trickle in tonight, men and women up and down the country are sitting in leisure centres and town halls, counting hundreds and thousands of ballot papers. The process of counting, re-counting and verifying is likely to last long into the night.
I can't help but think that local councils are missing a trick here. In our technology-driven world where we manage much of our lives online, from personal finances to doing our shopping, surely it would make sense to introduce the option of being able to vote online?
Providing a facility to vote online would be beneficial in many ways: accurate, real-time results, and reduced opportunity for voting mis-counts. However, the benefits would extend much further than the leisure centres where the votes are being counted; I believe it could be a vital tool to increase the voting turnout which is often less than 30% of the population.
One of the key reasons behind the low turnout rate could be attributed to the role of the Polling Station for voting. Although a solid method of vote collecting, society has evolved hugely in the past 30 years; modern life is hectic and as a result, squeezing in a visit to the Polling Station - especially if it's out of your way or you've got a family to look after - really isn't high on the priority list. It's a poor excuse, because the small burden of civic participation every few years really isn't a big ask, however, it's obvious that the Government do need to look at alternative ways of engaging the voting public, and I believe that online voting could well be a viable solution moving forward.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 21 million households in the UK have internet access (representing around 83% of the population), so we know that the majority of the population would have the means to vote online if the facility was provided. Polling Stations would continue to exist to serve the population who don't have access to a computer or would simply prefer to vote in person.
There would of course be some concern regarding security and data protection, however, setting up a secure means of voting online shouldn't be too difficult - if banks and data-driven companies such as Google can employ methods of high-level security online to keep our sensitive personal data safe, then there's definitely a suitable solution that local councils could employ in order to offer secure online voting.
In my mind, voting online would be simple: eligible voters would be sent unique login details - similar to a Polling Card - they'd be directed to a special website which is only active on election day and can cast their vote. The convenience factor would be hugely appealing to voters: imagine being able to pull out your phone or computer, enter a few details and cast your vote... all from the comfort of your own home / train carriage / office desk? It's a much more flexible and quicker process than the current Polling Station solution and I suspect this would significantly increase the voting turnout.
The current electoral process is steeped in tradition, but the modern world doesn't have time for tradition anymore. It's time to revisit the drawing board and drag voting into the 21st Century - for the sake of future democracy.