Author: webrootsdemocracy

Youth apathy on a European scale?

By Alex Campbell.

It is a constantly repeated mantra that ‘young people today’ in the UK and Europe are uninterested in politics. Voter turnout is falling rapidly and the youth vote in particular is in freefall.

This is backed up by statistical evidence. The British Election Study from 2013 notes that turnout is lower among young people relative to older age groups, and has been falling sharply in the context of falling overall turnout at General Elections. The Eurobarometer study “European Youth: Participation in Democratic Life” tells a similar story EU-wide, with 21% of young voters not voting in any political election at the local, regional or national level in 2013 out of choice, up from 16% in 2011.

One explanation goes that, as the new generation becomes more and more disassociated from the political process, so policy becomes less responsive to our interests, about unemployment, a living wage and affordable housing, not to mention the environment. So this belief that politics is un-relatable, unrewarding and useless becomes more ingrained, and turnout drops in a vicious perpetuating cycle. The fact that it is impossible to vote online in the UK just adds to the out-of-date and detached feel of contemporary politics.

It appears that anyone between the ages of 18-24 or under 30 (depending on your definition of ‘young person’) is doomed to a life of political disenfranchisement and consequent invisibility.

Yet, thankfully, there is more to the story. I would like to introduce the European Parliament, the directly elected body of the European Union, (populated with Ukippers after the 2014 election) which is far more concerned with its democratic legitimacy than our current government despite sharing the same problem of youth disengagement. The European Parliament is currently hosting its European Youth Event hearings. Since December last year, young people from all over Europe, including the UK, have been presenting their ideas for new initiatives to the Parliament on issues such as youth unemployment, the digital revolution and the environment. They are standing up for their interests and bringing fresh perspectives to the table. Contributing to the political process. Getting involved. This event brings the youth and decision makers together. It proves there are those who still believe in the democratic process and are politically active.

I am proud to say there remain some young people, including British young people, who do want to participate in democracy, to vote. The best way to help increase youth turnout is to make voting more accessible. That is where the ability to vote online comes in. Online voting will be step in the right direction towards engaging the digital generation. It will also make it easier for first-time voters to get smart about exactly what it is that they are voting for. To put it simply, accessible, online voting will help provide the much-needed involvement of young people.

Alex Campbell is a Law graduate from the University of Kent and has lived and worked in Brussels for 18 months.

For more information on the European Youth Event, please visit their website here or follow them on Twitter.

It’s time for political parties to commit to online voting

By Areeq Chowdhury.

It’s time for political parties to commit to online voting.

The report published today by the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy pulls together almost a year’s worth of detailed research into how Parliament can better engage with the electorate through the use of technology.

A strong and prominent recommendation within this report is that ‘by 2020, secure online voting should be an option for all voters.’ This echoes the call in a report by the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in November 2014 that urged the Government to run pilots in the next Parliament ‘with a view to all electors having the choice of voting online at the 2020 General Election.’

The Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB) has also called for online voting to be introduced in time for the 2020 election.

Online voting is something that I have been campaigning hard for this past year through my work in setting up WebRoots Democracy.

So far, only the Labour Party have committed to trialling online voting in the next Parliament, with their political reform lead Sadiq Khan MP writing that democracy in the UK is ‘stuck in a time warp’.

Compared to the post-1945 elections of the 20th Century, the average turnout in General Elections this century has dropped by 14 percentage points to just 62%.

The picture is even worse when you examine the less high-profile elections in the UK. The average voter turnout for the London Mayor, Welsh Assembly, Local Council, and European Parliament elections are all less than 50%. The turnout in the 2012 Police and Crime Commissioner elections was a measly 15%.

Whilst there are other issues that affect voter participation such as trust in politicians, education, and the policies of political parties, there is lots of evidence to suggest that online voting would increase turnout.

In a survey carried out by WebRoots Democracy, 71% of respondents said they would be more likely to vote if they could do so online.

This is particularly the case amongst young people.

In a recent study of youth engagement by Demos and vInspired, researchers found that 66% of young people would be more likely to vote if they could do so online. Similarly, the Sky News Stand Up Be Counted survey found that 4 out of 5 young people would be more likely to do so.

It goes without saying that security is a key requirement for any voting system.

Estonia is the most notable example of secure online voting. They have been doing so in Parliamentary elections since 2007 and in their last election, in 2011, almost a quarter of all votes were cast online.

It’s now time for the UK to take a lead.

Today’s report is a very welcome one and I hope that all political parties give the recommendations within it serious consideration when they pull together their manifestos for the upcoming General Election.

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 was originally published on the Sky News website here.

VIDEO: How online voting in Estonia works

Watch the short video below for a quick overview of how online voting works in Estonia.

The 2007 Estonian Parliamentary elections saw a ‘world premiere‘ of the first time an electorate could vote over the internet in elections of a national parliament.

The number of online votes cast in in 2007 was 30,243 out of a total of 550,213.  This amounted to 5.4% of the total number of votes being cast via the internet.  The percentage of online votes cast by voters aged 24 and under was 11% with the smallest percentage coming from the 55 to 59 age category with 6%.  The turnout in the election was 62% of the population.

In 2011, the number of online votes cast was almost five times larger than in 2007 with a total of 140,764 out of 580,264 votes cast via the internet.  This amounted to 24.3% of the total number of votes.  The percentage of online votes cast by voters aged 24 and under was 9%.  The turnout in comparison to the 2007 elections had increased by 1.5% with a turnout of 63.5%.

Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia

In 2007, it was estimated that 63% of the Estonian population use the internet, with 53% of households having a computer, and with every school having an internet connection.

Preconditions to online voting included a ‘high e-readiness of the Estonian population‘.  Voting was conducted using electronic ID cards and a legislative basis was created by the Estonian Parliament in 2002.

Statistics about online voting in Estonia can be found here.

I want to vote

By Agatka Cienciala.

rlsbOne of the interesting and unexpected side effects of moving away from home is that I found out, or rather was reaffirmed, in the knowledge of who I am and what interests me.

One of the things that I am passionate about is politics.

I love the creative nature of policy making, the mechanics of party structure, the different motivations people have for becoming involved with politics.  But most of all I love getting others passionate about politics and encouraging them to get involved.  I believe that politics is or rather should be, inclusive – seeking to represent all members of society.  This, after all, is objective of democracy.

But how can I encourage my blind and partially sighted friends to get involved with politics – to vote, when there is no secure way for them to do so?  In fact, how does it make me feel that, as a partially-sighted 18 year old, I will not be able to vote without assistance at the next general election?

The truth is that blind and partially sighted people, together with other disabled people, are the biggest group in our society still not to have the possibility of voting, using the secret ballot. This surely is not right.

But recently things have changed, for those in New Zealand at least.  On Saturday 20 September 2014 blind, partially sighted or otherwise disabled voters were able to cast their vote using Telephone dictation voting. Thomas Bryan of the Blind Foundation in New Zealand was one of these people. Up until this year he had taken someone with him to the polling booth or had to ask one of the staff to assist him in his voting.  ‘I have to trust that whoever assists me does what I ask them to.’

This year Mr Bryan set up a voting profile with a secret code and was then able to phone the telephone voting service, give this code, have the ballot paper read out to him and vote anonymously.  Once he had voted, someone else then checked his vote had been cast correctly by reading his selection back to him.

Mr Bryan described the experience as ‘most liberating’.  ‘While I still needed to use the phone to talk to the team to cast my vote, I felt I was very much in control and the cross checking of my vote gave me confidence in the system’.  ‘Now we just need to find a way to remove the people out of the mix and vote via touch tone phone or online or via app’.

With the wide availability of technology that would make the secret ballot possible for disabled voters I believe that there is no excuse for this flaw in our electoral system to remain.  I for one, would be delighted to be able to make my mark in the next general election whilst practising my right to a secret ballot.  I would also love to be able to encourage my blind and partially sighted friends and the rest of the two million blind and partially sighted people in the UK, to take part in this democratic process, knowing that their needs will be taken care of.

I trust and fully expect that the political machine will pick up on this huge possibility of engaging more of the electorate and those steps will be taken to implement some of the innovative ideas that would make this possible.

Agatka Cienciala is a former Youth Forum member of the Royal London Society for the Blind (RLSB).

The RLSB Youth Forum support the introduction of an online voting option in elections and have launched a campaign asking for a secret ballot for vision impaired people.  You can support their #votewithoutlimits campaign and sign their e-petition here.

This was originally posted on the RLSB website here.

Getting back to the future of voting

By Areeq Chowdhury.

“2015?! You mean we’re in the future?!”

When a young, confused, orange-jacket-wearing Marty McFly time-travelled thirty years into 2015 Hill Valley, California, he was faced with technological marvels: flying cars, hoverboards and self-tying shoelaces. Dreams of the future originating from the imaginations of the 1989 blockbuster’s script-writers.

Fast-forward thirty years in the non-fictional world in the United Kingdom, what technological masterpieces do we witness today? Self-driving cars, robots landing on comets, and the ability to vote by pen and paper!

Wait. Maybe not that last one. Pretty sure that’s almost the exact same method that’s been used for the last 142 years since Hugh Childers was re-elected in a by-election in 1872.

So when will we be able to vote online and what are the benefits of doing so?

Some reckon that we should be able to vote online in the 2020 election. The House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee recently launched a report into voter reform advocating such a target. The target mirrors the ambition of the opposition Labour Party in the UK which has set out an aim to have online voting by 2020.

Others, however, believe it may take a little longer but agree that action on this reform needs to take place immediately.

Speaking at a recent panel discussion event, Conservative MP Chloe Smith said it ‘could take up to ten years’ for the UK to develop an online voting platform.

She said a combination of examining and amending existing legislation, passing the legislation, and developing a strong market for online voting providers would take more than one parliamentary cycle, inferring that this reform would therefore require cross-party support.

So, if we are to use 2015 as the baseline, we could be waiting for the ability to vote online until 2025. Every year of delay adds an extra year onto that date. Time is truly of the essence.

“What is the point?” I hear you ask. “People who can’t be bothered to go to a polling station don’t deserve to vote” I hear you say.

Well, there are a number of reasons I think we should modernise elections in this way.

First of all, the current system is evidently out-dated when compared to the way that people access services nowadays.

The UK currently spends the most money on internet shopping in the whole of Europe. Just in the last week or so, shoppers in the UK spent £1.46billion on internet purchases during ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cyber Monday’.

Millions now choose to bank online using their laptops, PCs and even smartphone apps.

Billions of emails are sent in the UK every year, with traditional postal methods of communication facing a steady decline.

This year, for the first time, digital news overtook newspapers as the method of choice for accessing information about current affairs. Perhaps right now, even you, yourself, are reading this 944 word article in the palm of your hand.

Most strikingly, millions now socialise and find romantic partners on the internet, publicly displaying information about their date and place of birth, their favourites hobbies, and their holiday snaps.

So yes, it is fair to say that our current methods of voting in the UK are incredibly out-dated and simply do not reflect the culture change that has occurred in the Google Generation.

What else? One of the most attractive benefits of online voting, is the potential it has to boost accessibility and turnout in elections.

True. In the last General Election, less than half of young people turned out to vote with just 44% choosing to do so.

Recent figures released by the Office for National Statistics show that 79% of young people go on the internet every day and that 96% use the internet on-the-go. It’s therefore quite reasonable to assume that enabling people to vote online would increase the chances of people voting and this is further evidenced by numerous studies and surveys that show that young people would be more likely to vote if they could do so online.

The benefits aren’t reserved to young people though. First of all, eventually all of us will be digital natives, and secondly, the benefits are much greater for those already locked out of the current voting process.

In the current system, people with visual impairments and blindness are unable to cast a secret ballot and depend on others to cast the vote on their behalf.

In the current system, people with certain disabilities are restrained through no fault of their own due to inaccessible polling stations and even the inability to cast a postal vote.

In the current system, many parents, carers, and people working two jobs simply do not have the time or ability to go out to a village hall to wait in a queue before voting.

“What if someone hacks the system?!” I hear you type.

True, this a very important question. It’s a risk that needs to be mitigated and identifiable, but it is a risk that must be judged within the framework of the current system, within which there are many flaws, particularly with postal voting, where the only thing securing your vote is the saliva you used to lick the envelope closed.

But it is important that we start to invest and investigate these issues now so that we can work towards a workable system in the future, and hopefully not get left behind a tidal wave of further technological change.

And if you think it is ‘impossible’, ‘unfeasible’, ‘never going to happen’, didn’t you read about the self-driving cars and the robot that landed on the comet at the beginning of this piece?

Areeq Chowdhury is the Founder of WebRoots Democracy.

Do you think it’s time we were able to vote online in elections? Let us know here.

This was originally posted on the Huffington Post here.

Democracy Rebooted: Participation for a digital age

By William Louch.

Representative democracies are in the midst of a crisis. The age of the party is over. Turnout at elections is declining across Europe with (almost) every passing election, whilst the disconnect between political parties and wider society is made increasingly apparent with every photograph tweeted by Emily Thornberry. As Peter Mair writes ‘the parties pursue a form of competition that is so lacking in meaning, that they no longer seem capable of sustaining democracy in its present form.’ The rise of populist politics confirms this trend.

In the last year an Italian stand-up comedian (yes, they do exist) has managed to secure 25% of the vote in a general election, UKIP have become the first political party apart from Labour and the Conservatives to win a national election in the UK in over 100 years and Podemos, a Spanish political party founded this year, managed to secure 8% of a national vote having been in existence less than 100 days. To misquote Shakespeare, there is something rotten in the state of (insert EU country) and in order to stop the rot, we must rethink how and why we interact and engage with the political system.

What we must ask ourselves is how in an increasingly connected world have we managed to become increasingly disconnected from the political process? The answer to this question lies in rebooting, quite literally, democracy.

People today are more vocal, opinionated and engaged than ever before. The internet is the 21st century’s soapbox and has the power to shape our political future. Where despots reign and people could not engage politically by traditional means, the internet has provided people with an organisational platform not previously available. As the Arab Spring demonstrated, the revolution will not only be televised but it will be WhatsApped, tweeted, blogged, Facebooked, Instagrammed, liked and shared.

In the West, where people can, but increasingly don’t, participate in the democratic process, the power of social media has been harnessed to great effect on single-issue campaigns, such as banning the pickup artist Julien Blanc from entering the UK. These two examples, though very different in terms of political significance and context, both demonstrate technology’s potential to mobilise groups of people to achieve their political goals (the usual function of elections). Tapping technology’s potential is key to filling the void that Peter Mair has identified, reengaging the electorate by speaking to them on their own terms and allowing them to participate in their own homes and on their own phones.

The Net Democracy Foundation, an organisation dedicated to exploring how technology can improve civic participation, has a solution.

The foundation’s first project, Democracy OS, advocates a shift away from our representative democratic model to a version closer to Athenaeum democracy, something previously considered unsuitable for the modern nation state. The system would be more in line with a government ‘of, by and for the people’ with registered voters able to directly communicate with their representatives, telling them how to vote on any legislative proposals.

The software also provides a forum for public debate and helps representatives ascertain key voter concerns. When viewed in relation to the problems identified with representative democracy, the advantages become obvious. Firstly, it increases ease of access to the political process. Secondly, it will help elected bodies discern the issues the electorate really care about. Thirdly, it will provide motivation for the apathetic voter to become involved again. The refrain ‘what’s the point in voting as it won’t make any difference’ will no longer be relevant. Democracy OS can initiate a fundamental shift in power from the elected to the electorate. Politics will be for the people once more.

The birth of the internet has been nothing short of revolutionary. It has led to a profound change in the way in how we live, eat, date, shop and interact with society. So why should it not change the one thing that gives us the most power over our own collective destiny? There are obviously many potential problems that will have to be overcome to digitise democracy. However, the UK has, over centuries of democratic government, shown itself adept at adapting to changing societal circumstances. Participation in politics is an essential guarantor of justice, equality and opportunity and is demonstrably on the decline. Change is imperative, so let’s look to the future and reboot democracy.

William Louch is a Durham University graduate and is currently living and working in Lebanon.

Low voter turnout and the rise of UKIP

By Nathan Parton.

Walk down most streets in Britain and ask any citizen what they think of a politician or a political party and you’re likely to be met with a direct response – ‘They don’t understand what it is like’ or ‘their world is different to ours.’ This kind of rhetoric is becoming increasingly normal in Britain.

Irritation and dissatisfaction has elevated to a level that the public are now deciding to not vote at local, general and European elections. Having read Russell Brand’s ‘Revolution,’ I can empathise and agree with several actions that he wants to take in order to challenge the Establishment, however, his position on not voting, which he initially argued in favour of during an interview with Jeremy Paxman in 2013 worries me somewhat. Neglecting your right to vote does little in reshaping politics other than potentially harming your interests in allowing smaller parties rise to prominence.

For almost 30 years the public of Britain have voted for two parties who have ‘moved more central’ according to Tony Blair in his autobiography. Within the British political system, what we would deem left (Labour) and right (Conservative) no longer exists in its traditional form. Nick Clegg’s dishonesty and betrayal of the students has seriously damaged the reputation of the Lib Dems even further. The public are therefore left in a position where they can vote for three parties that have continued to be poor in the representation of their interests. It is for this reason that UKIP are gaining increasing support from voters who would traditionally vote for the Tory’s, Labour or the Lib Dems.

Let me refer to our most recent example in the Rochester and Strood by-election where former Tory MP Mark Reckless won the seat for UKIP after defecting. Winning a majority with just over 2,000 more votes more than Tory MP Kelly Tolhurst, Mark Reckless achieved 16,867 votes. If we compare these election results to the 2010 elections where Conservatives won with 23,604, Labour were runners-up with 13,651 and Lib Dems finished third with 7,800 votes, we can see a shift in voters priorities. In 2014, UKIP won with 16,867, Tory’s were runner’s-up with 13,947, Labour finished third with 6,713 and Lib Dems finished 5th (behind the Green Party) with 349 votes.

Thus, from this by-election we have witnessed a direct response from the people of Rochester and Strood and a distribution of voters. While this particular example had a high turnout at the polls, it illustrates the importance for people in other constituencies to vote and prevent a party that they would not necessarily support rising to prominence.

In the 1950 general election, 83.9% of the population turned out to vote Labour’s Clement Atlee into government with 13,226,176 votes, a level never reached again. Between 1945 and 2000 voter turnout maintained a level between 71 and 78.8% with two occasions reaching over 80%. However, in our most recent elections, voter turnout has been 59.4% (2001), 61.4% (2005) and most recently 65.1% in 2010.

My point then, is through neglecting your opportunity to vote, you are essentially allowing the distribution of votes to shift from the central parties to lesser, radical parties such as UKIP. UKIP have won two seats and have a realistic chance of winning more seats in 2015’s general election. These low turnouts and public discontent with the political elite have paved way for right wing parties such as BNP and Britain First to move up the system over the last decade.

The public of Britain have an opportunity to do something about this.

My greatest criticism of political parties is in their failure to reach out to sectors of our community and increase levels of voter turnouts at elections. Specifically the youth who are increasingly becoming less interested in voting because of their belief that their vote means nothing in terms of the greater picture, ‘things will still be the same’ – this kind of rhetoric. We are, in my opinion, at danger of allowing a duplicitous, damaging political party to rise to a level where their influence extends to regional and local levels.

UKIP’s support is coming from areas of the UK where ethnic communities are high and employment potential is limited. They also reach out to former Tory and Labour voters who are angered by the current parties. Indeed, if you vote for the same political parties that have dominated British politics for the last 50 years or more, you’re unlikely to challenge the system. However, if you don’t vote and allow for UKIP to even out the election poll then you are essentially allowing a right-wing party to gain a position of authority. Politics will change, with growing discontent and anger within society, we can start to change things after the 2015 election.

Nathan Parton has a BA in East Mediterranean History and an MA in International Relations. He was born in Germany and has lived in the UK since 2000.