Queen’s Speech hints at introducing online voting for overseas voters

The Queen’s speech has hinted at the possibility of introducing an online voting option to make elections more accessible for overseas voters.

The Queen’s Speech takes place during the State Opening of Parliament which marks the formal start of the parliamentary year.  The Queen’s Speech sets out the Government’s agenda for the coming session, outlining proposed policies and legislation.

One of the bills, entitled the “Votes for Life” bill, outlines proposals to scrap the current 15-year time limit on UK citizens living abroad voting in Westminster and European elections.  It also states that it will provide for secure and accessible registration of overseas electors.

On electoral administration, the Queen’s Speech states that the bill contains ‘provisions to make it easier for overseas electors to vote in time to be counted.’

The Queen sent her first ever tweet in October last year.

The Queen sent her first ever tweet in October last year.

It is not yet clear what form this will take, but with previous experience of issues with the postal voting method, it may allude to the introduction of an online voting option for overseas voters.

The bill also references a report by the Hansard Society from March 2014 entitled “Our forgotten voters: British citizens abroad” which states as one of its recommendations that ‘a feasibility study of electronic voting should be carried out’ with the trial being undertaken ‘in parts of the world with a high concentration of British expatriates.’

There are an estimated 4.6 million UK citizens currently living abroad.

Other countries that have used online voting for overseas voters include France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain (Catalonia), and the USA (Arizona and West Virginia).

The Labour Party have called for online voting to be piloted in the UK and research by WebRoots Democracy has found that introducing an online voting option in elections could significantly boost turnout, accessibility, and accuracy.

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

Online voting is the 21st century answer to poor voter turnout in the UK

By Areeq Chowdhury.

gov uk voteYou may have noticed a powerful image making the rounds on social media in the run up to the recent election, and it provides a damning verdict on democracy in the UK.

Nope, it’s not of Ed “Hell Yeah” Milibae in Angry Salmond’s pocket, or of a creepily invisible David Cameron making an address outside of Downing Street.

It involves a bar chart and a giant hand. Powerful stuff.

It’s a simple infographic showing that in 2010, ‘non-voters outnumbered the supporters of every single political party’ with ‘15.9 million people’ not turning out to vote compared to ‘10.7 million’ for the Conservatives, ‘8.6 million’ for Labour, and ‘6.8 million’ for the Liberal Democrats.

Turnout in 2010 was less than two-thirds with 65.8% of registered voters turning out to vote. This year the election saw a whopping increase in turnout of 0.3 percentage points at 66.1%. That means that 15.7 million people (enough to fill Wembley Stadium more than 174 times) did not vote in 2015.

There is a slight problem with the infographic though. It wasn’t 15.9 million non-voters in 2010; it was 15.6 million (internet, huh?). So, this means that this time, there was an actual increase in people not voting compared to 2010.

That brings the average number of non-voters in the 21st century to 16.6 million. The average for the 20th century was 9.2 million.

This is increasingly becoming a 21st century problem, and in my view, 2020 should see a 21st century solution. Online voting.

Digital is king in modern Britain. In the UK today, 38 million people shop and socialise online, 28 million read the news online, and 27 million bank online. There are even 4.5 million dating online.

At the same time, the UK is forecast to see a 20% reduction in the number of high street stores in the next 3 years, a reduction of 5.5 billion items sent in the postal market by 2023, and a newspaper market declining at a rate of more than 8% a year.

These industries aren’t taking the change lying down; they are adapting to the internet age.

The online retail share is expected to increase to 32% in 2018; the postal market has embraced online shopping with the parcels market expected to increase to 2.3 billion in 2023; and you would be hard-pressed to find a media outlet that doesn’t have a mobile, tablet, and PC platform.

Democracy, however, has staunchly kept to its 19th century, paper-only, voting platform. If our voting system was on a stock exchange, traders would be desperately selling off shares like Gil Gunderson on speed.

The 2015 General Election saw the total number of non-voters increase for the first time in more than a decade.

The 2015 General Election has seen the total number of non-voters increase for the first time in more than a decade.

But why adapt an out-of-touch system to the modern world?

report I authored recently for WebRoots Democracy, found that in addition to boosting voter turnout to 79%, online voting could cut the cost-per-vote by a third and increase the accessibility of voting for those with vision-impairments and other disabilities. It could also result in a better-informed electorate and a significant reduction in the number of accidentally spoilt ballots.

Did you know that in the recent election, an estimated 27,500 votes were rejected and not counted because voters ticked more than one candidate on their ballot papers?

On top of that, at the current rate of 0.3 percentage point growth, it would take us over 200 years to reach 79% turnout.

In the countless conversations I’ve had on this topic, those with reservations on the reform mention security, tradition, and combatting underlying causes.

Security is certainly something that needs to be addressed, but this is a question that needs to be answered in the pilot phase, and it is my view that the picture is not as bleak as some claim. An example of progress on this issue can be found here in the UK, in Birmingham. Professors in the Computer Science department at the University of Birmingham recently claimed that they have made a ‘breakthrough’ in secure online voting, paving the way for online voting in 2020 or 2025.

The tradition and atmosphere of voting at a polling station is something that should remain, and online voting should be introduced only as an additional option. However, personally, I found the experience of marking a piece of paper at a polling station slightly underwhelming.

As to the underlying causes of political disengagement, there is undoubtedly more to be done, but this will ultimately be something that may be achieved over the long term, and if it is achieved, will carry no guarantee of sustainability.

Sustainability is perhaps the most important reason to introduce online voting. Voter engagement has to be long-term and future-proof. Online voting will not achieve 100% turnout, but it will take us much closer to it than we are now. The argument for it this year was already strong, but it will be much stronger in five years time.

Whilst you and I will have grown up in the pre-digital age of VCRs, audio cassettes, and encyclopaedias, the 2020 general election will be the first election where there will be a generation of first-time voters who have known nothing other than a lifestyle of digital accessibility.

In 2020, we need to move past researchrecommendations, and reports and actually see online voting become a reality.

Areeq Chowdhury is the Founder of WebRoots Democracy.

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

This blog is cross-posted on the Huffington Post and the London School of Economics ‘Constitution UK’ website.

Figures reveal thousands of ballots rejected due to voter confusion

Figures compiled from 100 constituencies by WebRoots Democracy have shown that over 4,000 ballots were rejected due to voters accidentally ticking more than one candidate in the 2015 General Election.  In each of these constituencies, votes were rejected and discounted for this reason.

The total amount across the 100 constituencies examined is 4,232.  This is based on the election result declarations published by local authorities.  Not every local authority has decided to publish a detailed breakdown of spoilt ballots.

The estimated total across all 650 constituencies is 27,500.

Local authorities reject ballot papers due to ‘want of an official mark'; ‘voting for more candidates than the voter was entitled to'; ‘writing or mark by which voter could be identified'; or ‘being unmarked or wholly void for uncertainty.’

The constituency with highest number of rejected ballots due to votes for more than one candidate was Keith Vaz’s constituency of Leicester East in which 265 people voted incorrectly.  The constituencies with lowest number of accidentally spoilt ballots were Aberdeen South and East Lothian with 5 each.

Turnout for the election increased by just 0.33 percentage points compared to 2010.

Turnout for the election increased by just 0.33 percentage points compared to 2010.

Voters who accidentally spoil their ballots are never informed that their votes are not counted.

One of the reasons for online voting cited in the Viral Voting report published in March was to significantly reduce the number of accidentally spoilt ballots and to ensure that every vote counts.  Under an online voting option, it would be unlikely that a voter would be allowed to submit a votes for more candidates than the voter is entitled to.

The average number of accidentally spoilt ballots across the 100 constituencies is 42 which is the same amount as the narrowest majority of the election gained by the Conservative’s Amanda Solloway in Derby North.

Download the accidentally spoilt ballot figures of 100 constituencies here: Accidentally Spoilt Ballots 2015.

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

University of Birmingham researchers claim ‘breakthrough’ in secure online voting technology

Computer scientists at the University of Birmingham have claimed to have made a ‘breakthrough’ in secure online voting technology, developing a technique to allow people to cast their election votes online even if their computers are suspected of having viruses.

Led by Professor Mark Ryan, the researchers have taken inspiration from banks and have created a system which allows people to vote by employing independent hardware devices in conjunction with their PCs.

In line with much of the discussions taking place in the UK today, the researchers claim the system could be ready for use in the 2020 or 2025 General Election.

Speaking about the developments, Professor Ryan said:

“This system works by employing a credit card-sized device similar to those used in online banking. It is called Du-Vote, and we have been developing it over the past two years. From the voter’s perspective, it’s straightforward: you receive a code on the device and type it back into the computer.

The main advantage of this system is that it splits the security between the independent security device and a voter’s computer or mobile device. A computer is a hugely powerful, all-purpose machine running billions of lines of code that no one really understands, whereas the independent security device has a much, much smaller code base and is not susceptible to viruses.”

Security of a potential online voting method is one of the key concerns that proponents and opponents alike have about the reform.

Earlier this year, the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy recommended that an online voting option should be introduced for the 2020 General Election.  A report published by WebRoots Democracy in March found that online voting could boost turnout in the UK by up to 9 million.  It also called for online voting to be introduced in trade union ballot strikes and for it to be piloted in Mayoral elections before being implemented in the 2020 General Election.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham claim the system could be ready for the 2020 General Election.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham claim the system could be ready for the 2020 General Election.

Gurchetan Grewal, a member of the project team at the University of Birmingham with a PhD in online voting said that ‘this is currently the only piece of work that addresses a core problem of e-voting, namely, that someone may have viruses or other malware on their computer.’

The researchers claim that their system is more secure than those used by banks ‘by allowing for the possibility that the security devices themselves have been manufactured under the influence of a hostile adversary.’

The research paper, titled ‘Du-Vote: Remote Electronic Voting with Untrusted Computers’, will be presented at the 28th IEEE Computer Security Foundations Symposium in Verona, Italy, in July.

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

Download the Viral Voting report here.

Figures show 7 million using online voter registration, whilst less than a quarter register by paper

Data published by the Government shows that since the introduction of online voter registration last summer, more than 7 million people have registered to vote online with 2 million registering via the traditional paper method.

On deadline day for registering, a record 485,012 people registered to vote with 97% of these applications being done online.

More than half (51%) of voter registrations, since the online option was introduced, were made by those aged 16 to 34.

In the run up to the voter registration deadline, social media was ablaze with celebrities, politicians, and charities urging people to register to vote online.  Opposition Labour leader, Ed Miliband, tweeted a link to the registration website warning that people were “running out of time” and UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, tweeted that it was an opportunity to “rock the establishment.”

Socialist commentator Owen Jones tweeted the link saying that those who did not register will have “robbed” themselves of “a voice in a historic election.” Actor and comedian, Chris Addison said that those who are not registered would be the people “the politicians don’t have to worry about.”

Others included Queen guitarist Brian May, Harry Potter actor James Phelps, singer Paloma Faith, and former England Football Captain, Sol Campbell.

On the day of the BBC Election Debate on April 16th, 118,000 people registered to vote with 93% registering online.  At the end of the debate, the host, David Dimbleby, read the website link out urging viewers to register.

77% of voter registrations have been done online since the option was introduced last summer.

77% of voter registrations have been done online since the option was introduced last summer.

The highest number of online voter registrations was on the final day with 469,047 registering online, whilst the highest number of paper registrations on any day since last summer was on November 5th with 27,068 paper registrations.

On Bite the Ballot’s ‘National Voter Registration Day‘ on February 5th, 166,140 people registered to vote, with 94% online.

The experience of introducing an online voter registration option has evidently shown the power of social media, the ease of digital access, and the reach to millions that online portals can have.

WebRoots Democracy’s ‘Viral Voting‘ report published last month estimated that introducing an online voting option could boost turnout by up to 9 million in the UK as well as providing savings to the taxpayer of around £12 million per General Election.

In addition to this, a recent survey found that online voting would be the most popular method of voting across all age groups were it introduced.

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

Download the Viral Voting report here.

Study finds that online voting would be the most popular method in the UK

New insights published by polling company Opinium has found that, if introduced in the future, online voting would be the most popular method of voting in the UK.

Opinium conducted a survey of over 2,000 adults in the UK with the results showing that 45% of respondents would choose to vote online if online voting was an option in future elections. This compares to 30% who said they would continue to vote at a polling station, 13% who said they would vote by post, and 2% who would vote via proxy.

Reflecting a pattern apparent in numerous other studies, the survey results show that online voting would be more popular amongst women than men.  46% of female respondents said they would choose to vote online compared to 43% of male respondents.

Across age groups, online voting is the most popular option with 51% of 18 to 34 year olds stating that would vote online, and 48% of 35 to 54 year olds stating the same.  In the over 55s age group, there is an even split between voting online and voting in person of 37%.

Online voting would be the most popular option amongst those in different socio-economic groups with 46% of respondents from the ABC1 group choosing to vote online as well as 43% of those in the C2DE group.

Voters in the UK are going to the polls on May 7th

Voters in the UK are going to the polls on May 7th

The survey provides an interesting insight into the impact of online voting in the UK as the findings differ from the experience that Estonia, which has been voting online since 2005, has had.  In their Parliamentary election earlier this year, 30.5% of voters chose to vote online. When online voting was introduced for the first time in Parliamentary elections in Estonia, just 3.4% of voters voted online.

The findings from the Opinium study likely reflect the culture of the UK which has embraced the internet for accessing information and services.  The statistics in the Viral Voting report published in March showed that 74% of adults shop online; 53% bank online; 55% read the news online; and 60% of the population socialise online.

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

Download the Viral Voting report here.

New poll finds most support for online voting amongst women, Londoners, and 80’s kids

A new survey by Mancunian marketing agency, Tecmark and polling company YouGov has found that 63% of adults in the UK believe that the introduction of online voting would boost turnout in elections.

The data shows that support is strongest amongst women, those who live in London, and those aged 25 to 39.  It is also most popular amongst Northerners and those who voted for the Liberal Democrats in 2010.

The Managing Director of Tecmark, Richard Heyes said:

“Every general election between 1922 and 1997 had a turnout of more than 70%. Each of three elections since then, in 2001, 2005 and 2010, has fallen below that figure.

We have a thriving digital community in the UK with global expertise. If Parliament is serious about modernising and becoming more relevant, then smartphone/tablet voting must become a reality sooner rather than later.”

Last month, WebRoots Democracy’s ‘Viral Voting’ report found that the introduction of online voting could boost turnout by nine million and save taxpayers around £12.8 million per General Election.  It also found that it could significantly reduce the number of accidentally spoilt ballots cast and enable vision-impaired voters to cast a secret ballot for the first time.

The Tecmark/YouGov poll also found that trust in the security of online voting was an issue with 40% of respondents stating that it is their ‘biggest concern.’

The poll found a slightly greater proportion of female voters were in support of online voting (42%) than male respondents (40%).

Source: Viral Voting report

This reflects a number of other polls from WebRoots Democracy, Sky News, Demos, and Lodestone which found greater support for online voting amongst women than men.  In the 2010 General Election, only 39% of young women voted compared to 50% of young men.

With regards to 2015 voting intentions, the survey finds support for online voting most popular amongst supporters of Labour (48%) followed by supporters of the Liberal Democrats (41%), Conservatives (38%), and UKIP (34%). Opposition was strongest amongst those intending to vote for UKIP (30%).

Support for modernising elections with online voting has received support from the Speaker’s Commission for Digital Democracy, the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, and the Labour Party.

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

Download the Viral Voting report here.