Local Government: An avenue for online voting?

By Councillor James Beckles.

Contact Newham Council

Local authorities are at the heart of our communities; they deliver a wide range of services we need and their role ultimately is to improve the lives of the people of the communities they serve. Local government is often the first democratic institutions many of us interact with knowingly or unknowingly in our daily lives.

Due to innovation and out of financial necessity local authorities are utilising digital technology to reach out to residents and the wider public online. Many local authorities are shifting services online which in some instances can be far more effective and efficient. With the advancement of technology and the proliferation of smart devices future it is now easier for more people to get online and engage in their local politic process.

The next big shift in local government should be to provide the means for the electorate to vote online during local elections.

Allowing online voting for local elections could serve as a test bed for local authorities, many of who have spent large sums of money equipping themselves with the infrastructure to provide services online in a more user friendly and accessible way. The potential for local councillors and candidates to engage with a new younger demographic is also a plus.

We have seen that when young people between the ages of 18-24 are not engaged then their turnout at elections are reduced. Data from Ipsos-Mori showed the turnout for 18-24 years at the 2015 General Election was 43% compared 78% for those 65 years old and over. But can we simply blame voter apathy or disillusionment if the system of voting is not modernised to take account of new technologies and lifestyles?

lincoln_cathedral

In the 2014 Local Council Elections, Lincoln (pictured) experienced a turnout of just 30.4%.

Why shouldn’t the ability to vote online not be part of our electoral process? Well some may argue that online voting could be open to electoral fraud and how would you verify that the person casting the vote is the actual voter registered. These accusations have been made against another form of voting – postal voting.

Often criticised for being abused by the unscrupulous and there are a number of high profile cases where this has happened – Tower Hamlets being one such example – the system of postal voting is still part of our electoral process. It is the high profile cases which have ensured there are measures in place to counter the instances of fraud and malpractice.

There are safeguards to ensure that people who use postal votes do so honestly and to minimise the potential of fraud. Similar safeguards could be introduced for online voting at the local level. Verification numbers linked to passport ID or date of birth are just some of the ways forward.

In the same way postal voting has given people the flexibility to take part in the democratic process they otherwise may not have. Online voting offers the same potential.

Our local authorities expect us to have more interactions with them via online portals and through communications, so the ease and efficiency of voting online opens up another route by which local politicians and the electorate can be engaged in the mutually beneficial electoral process.

Councillors need votes to win elections and seeking as many votes as possible from as wide an electorate as possible should be part of the campaigning process. A mandate built on a diverse electoral base means local councillors are more accountable to the people that put them in office and subject to the scrutiny of a wider electorate rather than a narrow group of voters.

Of course the decision to expand voting online doesn’t rest with local councillors. It rests with central government. But local authorities and councillors have a unique position within their communities as champions and leaders. They should call for all sections of their communities to be represented and no vote left neglected. It should be the role of local councillors to ensure that everyone eligible to vote in their local area can do so in a way that meets their needs. Now that local authorities are demanding more autonomy from central government and the demand for local services such as social housing, well maintained streets and safer neighbourhoods increases. There should be a greater call for modernisation in our system of voting.

Local government must be seen as well as act in a way that embodies local accountability and representing the wishes of all the community. Town halls are not detached from their communities but part of their fabric. Building consensus should become evermore important. Online voting may not solve the problem of how to fully engage all the electorate but it is a meaningful start in the right direction; and what better place to start this new electoral process than at the local level.

James Beckles is a Councillor in Newham and wants to see more young people and marginalised groups get involved in politics.

Do you think the UK should introduce an online voting option for elections?  Take a moment to sign and share our e-petition.

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Intergenerational unfairness: online voting is key to strengthening the voice of Britain’s disillusioned youth

By Joe Carton.

young person using smartphoneThe British political system is painfully neglecting the country’s youth. Choosing to pander to the baby boomer generation with generous offerings of a pension ‘triple lock’ and an array of retirement benefits, Britain’s main political parties are suppressing the aspiration of today’s youth by failing to address the growing disparity in wealth between generations.

The sustained deprivation burdened on young people by consecutive Governments is worth reiterating. The trebling of tuition fees will overshadow our already waning living standards for many years to come, all because we aspired to a higher education. And this is just one round in a barrage of attacks on equal opportunity for higher education. The government is now also scrapping grants for poorer students.

Beyond education, home ownership among younger people is in a state of collapse. The time it takes a typical middle-income household to save enough for a deposit has increased from 3 years in 1983 to 24 years today. Unpaid internships are now a concerning normality. The Guardian columnist Owen Jones described them as the ‘walls that have been built around professions’ that aspiring city workers are obliged to scale. Most worryingly, thousands of young people are out of work, leading to a higher likelihood of long-term ‘scarring’ in later life in terms of subsequent lower pay, higher unemployment and reduced life chances.

uk youth parliament

Members of the UK’s Youth Parliament are elected using online voting.

In fact, the situation has grown so bad that MPs have launched a major inquiry into “inter-generational fairness” over fears that the British state pension and welfare system is unfairly favouring pensioners at the expense of younger workers.

The standard explanation for Government negligence towards young people is that our generation tend to have less of a stake in the system than the middle-aged or the elderly. Those of us under 25 are less likely to turnout at a general election than any other age group, and as a result political parties see little reason to offer policy incentives to gain our vote. We pose too high a risk and offer too little a reward for the main political parties to concentrate their campaign efforts on us. Electorally volatile and difficult to predict, Britain’s political parties are happy to dismiss us and focus their efforts on the grey vote, where returns are higher and also more likely. To offer some context, in the 2015 General Election only 43% of those aged between 18-24 turned out, compared to 78% of those over the age of 65.

To improve our political favourability and ultimately encourage political parties to provide young people with greater fortune, we must increase our stake in the political system. We must consistently increase our proportion of the overall electoral turnout across all elections, and remind our elected representatives that we too are able to influence their position in power.

Increasing our stake in a democracy is relatively straightforward. Quite simply, it means more of us ‘turning out’ to vote. Traditionally voting has involved interrupting daily routines with a trip to the polling station, or alternatively arranging for a postal vote to be sent. However since the digital revolution, in an age of instant gratification at the press of a button, young people see this is as out-dated, bureaucratic and inconvenient.

It’s time for politics to fast-forward to the present and have online voting introduced. In the UK, 38 million people are on Facebook, 15 million are on Twitter, and 4.5 million use online dating sites. Many of these are young people. We have a tech literate nation, but the political establishment is choosing to ignore this in favour of the status quo. Instead of democracy becoming more accessible, apathy reigns supreme.

It is in the absolute interest of all young people to show solidarity and back the campaign for online voting. As an age demographic, Government negligence towards us is indiscriminate. We could all be better off than we are now.  The solution is to increase our electoral strength by making voting more accessible for all. Through digital empowerment the availability of online voting will improve the democratic participation of young people and capture the Government’s attention, resulting in us becoming a key political priority.

Joe Carton is a History graduate from Durham University currently working as a Corporate and Public Affairs Consultant for Cohn & Wolfe.

Do you think the UK should introduce an online voting option for elections?  Take a moment to sign and share our e-petition.

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Plaid Cymru pledge to introduce online voting in Wales

welsh assemblyLeanne Wood AM, leader of Plaid Cymru has promised to introduce online voting for Welsh Assembly elections if her party wins power in this year’s elections.

Speaking at an event organised by the Electoral Reform Society in Aberystwyth, Wood said the trials of online voting would be part of a ‘democratic renewal.’

She also promised to lower the voting age to 16 and to hold cabinet meetings outside of Cardiff in order to be ‘accessible’ and ‘answerable.’

The Welsh Assembly consists of 60 Assembly Members with 40 representing constituencies, and 20 representing regions.  Plaid Cymru currently hold 11 seats with Labour running a minority administration with 30 seats.  Plaid Cymru are tipped to do well in May and, last year, leader Leanne Wood took part in the televised leaders debates in the run up to the General Election.

In a handout picture released by ITV on

Leanne Wood represented Plaid Cymru in the televised leaders debates last year.

The announcement makes Plaid Cymru the second major political party in the UK to commit to introducing online voting, after the Labour Party’s commitment last year to restarting pilots.

However, WebRoots Democracy’s recent report, Secure Voting, included support for online voting from MPs from across the political spectrum including from the Conservatives, the Scottish National Party, and the Liberal Democrats.

Should Plaid Cymru be successful and follow through with their plans, it would make the Welsh Assembly elections the first major election in the UK to use online voting.  The largest online voting election in the UK took place last year with over 300,000 people voting online for Jeremy Corbyn to become the Labour leader.  Almost a million people voted in the 2011 Welsh Assembly elections, however overall turnout was just 42%.

Do you think the UK should introduce an online voting option for elections?  Take a moment to sign and share our e-petition.

 

REPORT: Online voting can be secured and should be an option in the 2020 UK General Election

Online voting can be made sufficiently secure and should be introduced for the 2020 UK General Election, according to a new report ‘Secure Voting’ launched today.  The report, backed by MPs from across the political spectrum, is written by global experts and academics in the electronic voting field and examines the key security challenges facing the implementation of online voting for UK elections.

The report, by pressure group WebRoots Democracy, covers areas such as cyber-attacks, voter coercion, and malware on devices.  The 30,000 word document is made up of contributions from e-voting experts from the UK, USA, Spain, and Estonia, including UK-based companies Electoral Reform Services, Mi-Voice, and Smartmatic as well as computer scientists Dr Kevin Curran from the University of Ulster and Professor Robert Krimmer from Tallinn University of Technology.

Secure Voting makes three recommendations which include calls for the public to be able to vote online in the 2020 General Election and for pilots to be run over the course of this Parliament.

The report points out that voter turnout increased by just 0.3% last year compared to 2010, and highlights research by Ipsos Mori which shows that youth voter turnout was less than half for the fourth General Election in a row.  It also includes analysis which shows that an estimated 95% of the UK’s over 19,000 elected politicians were elected on turnouts of less than 50%.

The publication coincides with the anniversary of the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy report which last year recommended that online voting be introduced by 2020.

Report editor and Founder of WebRoots Democracy, Areeq Chowdhury said:

“The Government have said they are open to online voting, and the Prime Minister himself said on live TV that he has no objection to it, however what they have wanted to see are assurances that it can be made sufficiently secure.  This report provides those assurances and those assurances are backed up by decades of experience in electronic voting and internet security.Research has shown that there are a plethora of benefits to online voting which go beyond boosting voter turnout.  In addition, opinion polls show that the public want to be able to vote online and that it would be the most popular method if introduced. Time is ticking for 2020, and now is the time for the Government to commit to bringing it in.”

online voting can be secured

The report contains forewords with support from a range of voices:

Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow said:

“The Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy was a product of this desire to open up Parliament and to improve the way we interact, with a focus on how digital technology could widen participation in politics, with a view to encouraging more effective engagement. I look forward to the contribution to the discussion the release of the WebRoots Democracy report has, and the debate that will follow.”

Conservative MP and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democratic Participation, Chloe Smith said:

“Sensibly legislating and implementing e-voting can be done if politicians admit that it is almost immoral by now to fail to consider it.  It is a sizeable project and we should start it.”

Labour MP and former Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, Graham Allen said:

“Change does not happen overnight, and modernising elections will take time, however, if we are serious about creating a twenty-first century democracy, online voting is a reform that must be given serious attention.”

Scottish National Party MP, Hannah Bardell said:

“This issue is about engagement and confidence in our democratic system. Whilst the voting system is stuck in the same yesteryear of pen to paper and manual counting – society will move on and our democracy will be stuck in the past. We cannot languish any longer, the UK Parliament and our voting system must develop into the 21st Century.”

Liberal Democrat MP, Tom Brake said:

“I welcome this stellar report produced by WebRoots Democracy. It provides an excellent explanation of the effects of online voting and its importance to the future of our political institutions. It satisfies the need to produce a secure, but more accessible means of casting a ballot. We must take this opportunity to push our nation in a direction that allows everyone to exercise their right to vote and exercise it easily.”

Download and read the Secure Voting report here.

Do you think the UK should introduce an online voting option for elections?  Take a moment to sign and share our e-petition.

Lord Kerslake: Online voting is ‘more secure than postal’

trade union strikeThe former Head of the UK Civil Service, crossbench Peer, and President of the Local Government Association, Lord Kerslake has suggested that online balloting is more secure than postal ballots in a piece written for the Guardian newspaper.

Arguing the case against proposals to bar trade unions using online voting for strike ballots, Kerslake said:

“The most completely unreasonable requirement is that trade unions will not be able to conduct these ballots electronically. In 2007, when I was chief executive of Sheffield city council, we ran one of the biggest electronic voting pilots. It was not without its challenges, but I came to the very clear conclusion that electronic voting is as least as secure, if not more so, than postal ballots. Since then we have got used to carrying out vastly more of our lives online.”

His comments are related to the Government’s Trade Union Bill which is at the second reading stage in the House of Lords.

bob kerslake

Lord Kerslake is the former Head of the UK Civil Service. (Photo credit: Civil Service World)

In 2007, five electronic voting pilots were conducted and the Electoral Commission considered that these had been ‘broadly successful’ but that ‘there were some issues concerning accessibility’ and ‘public understanding of the pre-registration process.’

A recent poll by the Trades Union Congress and YouGov, found that 53% of the British public support the introduction of online strike ballots.  TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said the Government should modernise the voting method in order to raise democratic participation.

Introducing online voting for trade union strike ballots was one of the recommendations made in WebRoots Democracy’s Viral Voting report last year, and was a move supported by the previous Business Secretary, Vince Cable, prior to the 2015 election labelling it as a “sensible reform.”

Do you think the UK should introduce an online voting option for elections?  Take a moment to sign and share our e-petition.

TUC/YouGov poll: Majority of British public support online strike ballots

voting phoneThe majority of the British public say that the use of electronic balloting to vote for industrial action is appropriate, according to a poll commissioned from YouGov and published by the Trades Union Congress (TUC).  It comes ahead of the second reading of the Trade Union Bill in the House of Lords.

More than half (53%) of the 1,711 respondents said voting for strike action electronically through a secure, dedicated website is appropriate, with only one in five (20%) saying it is inappropriate for unions to be able to do this.

An almost identical split think that electronic balloting should be used when voting for political party leadership elections, with 53% in favour and 22% against.

The poll also found that almost half (47%) of current Conservative Party voters support online voting for trade union strike ballots.  This is despite reluctance by the Conservative Government to introduce this reform in the Trade Union Bill.

frances-lg

The TUC has 54 affiliated trade unions with an estimated total membership of 6.2 million. (Pictured: Frances O’Grady)

General Secretary of the TUC, Frances O’Grady said:

“If the Government really cared about raising democratic participation then it would allow unions to use the same modern voting methods the Conservative Party uses, and give working people the right to vote securely and secretly online, and in the workplace”

The Conservative Party, Labour, the SNP, Greens, and the Liberal Democrats all currently use online voting for internal party elections.

Introducing online voting for trade union strike ballots was one of the recommendations made in WebRoots Democracy’s Viral Voting report last year, and was a move supported by the previous Business Secretary, Vince Cable prior to the 2015 election labelling it as a “sensible reform.”

Do you think the UK should introduce an online voting option for elections?  Take a moment to sign and share our e-petition.

Scottish National Party calls for electronic voting in Parliament

The third largest party in the UK House of Commons, the Scottish National Party (SNP) has made fresh calls for electronic voting to be introduced in Parliament.

Currently the 650 MPs in the House of Commons spend 15 to 20 minutes queuing up in voting lobbies in the Palace of Westminster.

SNP MP, Hannah Bardell, said that the “time wasted” currently would be “much better spent representing our constituents and tackling the issues that impact on their lives.”

Electronic voting is currently used by representatives in the devolved UK Parliaments in Wales and Scotland.

Ms Bardell further argued that:

“The House of Common’s reluctance to modernise its outmoded procedures is part of the reason that parliament is far from family friendly and continues to be considered alien and remote by the public.

As we move towards the start of 2016, it’s well and truly time to create a modern parliament that is fit for a modern democracy.”

Hannah Bardell (L) said Parliament needs to "live in the 21st century, not the 17th."

Hannah Bardell (L) said Parliament needs to “live in the 21st century, not the 17th.”

This is a suggestion that has been supported by the Labour Party in the past and the Green Party’s former leader and only MP, Caroline Lucas.

The UK Parliament website states that “many members view the procedure of voting in person through the lobbies as an essential opportunity to speak to or lobby senior colleagues.”

Do you think the UK should introduce an online voting option for elections?  Take a moment to sign and share our e-petition.