Author: webrootsdemocracy

Labour’s ‘digital experts’ advocate online voting for UK elections

In a report launched this month, a network of ‘digital experts’ from the Labour Party’s ‘Labour Digital’ group have included a recommendation that the UK should ‘implement an electronic voting system that allows all citizens to vote online for national and local UK elections’.

The network was launched in March 2014 at the request of Shadow Business Secretary, Chuka Umunna and is chaired by Lord Mitchell, a former technology entrepreneur.

Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan recently announced at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester that Labour plans to introduce ‘electronic voting’.

The report entitled ‘Number One in Digital’ makes 82 recommendations in order to ‘make the UK the number one country in the digital revolution’.

In the foreword of the report, Labour’s Policy Coordinator, Jon Cruddas MP says that ‘we are at the start of the internet revolution’ and that ‘the digital economy demands a new approach to government’.

The report makes a range of recommendations including changes to digital infrastructure, education, and business.

The final two recommendations refer to the move towards online voting.

Recommendation 81 reads that:

Britain should implement an electronic voting system that allows all citizens to vote online for national and local UK elections.

The reasoning is as follows:

Indeed, questions must be raised over the efficacy of a representative democratic system that provides little official scope for realtime digital feedback in age where an MP, standing in central lobby, can read the tweet of a constituent who has just watched Prime Minister’s Questions on the BBC’s dedicated online democracy service. The potential digital technology holds in providing data to policy makers, reducing information asymmetries between politicians and voters and lowering the barriers to engagement, must be faced head on, and a future government should consider moving toward an inclusive model of democracy fit for 21st century society.

The final recommendation in the report also advocates online voting, but on legislation in the House of Lords.  It states that ‘20% of the electoral college of the House of Lords should be allocated to the public who would vote on legislation online and be supported by an institutionalised briefing service.’

The report estimates that the introduction of online voting for UK elections would cost up to £100million.

Would you be more likely to vote if you could do so online? Let us know here.

Labour announce plans to introduce ‘electronic voting’

sadiq khanIn his speech to the Labour Party conference in Manchester today, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan announced that should the Labour Party win the General Election in 2015 they will introduce ‘electronic voting’.

After commenting on the Scottish independence referendum, Khan, who is tipped to be a Labour candidate for the 2016 London Mayoral election, said the following:

“Westminster has become a dirty word.

We ignore this at our peril.  That’s why Labour will overhaul our democracy.  Making it as easy as possible to vote.  Transforming elections so that voting is in tune with the busy lives people lead.

Holding elections at weekends to raise turnout.  Polling opened a week in advance to allow early voting.  Electronic voting, making sure it’s affordable and isn’t open to abuse.”

It’s not clear what form of ‘electronic voting’ that Labour are committing to as the term could refer to electronic voting machines at polling booths, electronic voting in public spaces, or remote electronic voting also known as online voting.

It is also not clear what process of electronic voting they will pursue.

Undoubtedly, we will endeavour to find out the detail on this policy.

In addition to this, Khan said that Labour are committed to democratic reforms in other areas and said that ‘votes for 16 and 17 year olds is an idea whose time has come’.

LL screenshotThis is a move that Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond also pushed for yesterday.

We supported the call for the right to vote to be extended to 16 and 17 year olds in a discussion on London Live yesterday alongside youth charity vInspired and online news organisation Shout Out UK.

This can be watched here.

Today’s announcement makes the Labour Party the first major political party in the UK to commit to digitalising the voting process.

Whether this translates to online voting is yet to be seen, but keep your eyes peeled here for the detail when it comes.

Could an #onlinevoting option have enticed the half a million that didn’t vote in the #indyref?

willieWhilst over two million Scots will be feeling relieved and more than one and half million nursing feelings of disappointment, there will be over half a million Scottish people confessing to having not voted in the independence referendum.

In total, over 665,000 registered voters did not cast a vote in the Scottish independence referendum.

This represents over 15% of the 4 million Scottish people that registered to vote and is a number that could have changed the result to a ‘Yes’ victory.

The turnout of 84.5% sets a record in major UK elections beating the 83.9% in the 1950 General Election, and ridicules the 62% average of recent General Elections.

However, in a referendum campaign that was of such constitutional importance to not just Scotland, but to the entire United Kingdom, it is significant that so many registered voters did not turn out to vote.

Whilst such a high turnout is something to be applauded, why is it that over half a million people that registered to vote did not turn out on polling day?

The common answers for not voting that pundits, political scientists, and politicians would tell you are that the electorate are ‘apathetic’, ‘disengaged’, or ‘disillusioned’.

However, this was a referendum over immense constitutional change that commentators and pollsters said could go either way, and one which remained at the forefront of media attention for the past two years. In addition, it was a referendum in which more than eight out of ten Scottish people took part in.

A ‘yes or no’ question that everybody influential from JK Rowling to Andy Murray expressed an opinion on.

It is therefore inconceivable that the 665,000 non-voters ‘did not care’, ‘did not want to take part in’ or ‘forgot about’ such an important vote.

Whilst the electorate may be disillusioned with politics in parliamentary elections, in a referendum it is a different story. In a referendum, the result is decided by simple majority and everyone’s vote counts. It is not expenses-abusing, promise-breaking, corrupt politicians deciding the future, it is the people themselves.

Direct democracy.

So why is it that over half a million decided not to vote? I guess they themselves are the only ones who can really answer that question, but would reducing barriers to voting help bridge the gap?

Aside from the high turnout, the result itself, and the generally peaceful conduct of the debate, what I found most striking about the referendum was how digital it was. I think, perhaps, it was the most digital political campaign in history.

Almost every online method of campaigning was exercised during the referendum campaign with hundreds of thousands engaging with social media accounts, streaming the Darling-Salmond debates, taking part in MumsNet discussions, and instragamming memes of everyone from William Wallace to Groundskeeper Willie.

Mr Salmond and Mr Darling even took part in the Ice Bucket Challenge. Do you remember that?

Whilst this was the most digital campaign in history, in an increasingly digital country, the method of voting remained the traditional way that it has been in the UK since the late 1800s, by paper.

I have written before of the need for online voting, but with regards to this case, was accessibility an issue, and could an online voting option have helped people?

For parents with full-time jobs and children to look after; it would be more accessible. For those on low pay, working two jobs; it would be more accessible. And for those who have a disability and struggle to leave the house; it would be more accessible.

Is it then the case that non-voters were put off by queues, caring responsibilities, and busy schedules? Would an online voting option have made it easier? Or am I wrong and is it the case that the 655,000 people simply ‘did not care’ about having a say on Scotland’s future?

Would you be more likely to vote if you could do so online? Let us know here.

This was originally posted on the Huffington Post here.

Why did over half a million registered voters not turn out in the Scottish #indyref?

scotland decidesAfter a passionate, heated and tightly-run two-year campaign, over 665,000 registered voters did not cast a vote in the Scottish independence referendum.

This represents over 15% of the 4 million Scottish people that registered to vote and is a number that could have changed the result to a ‘Yes’ victory.

The turnout of 84.5% sets a record in major UK elections beating the 83.9% in the 1950 General Election, and dwarfs the 62% average of the recent General Elections.

However, in a referendum campaign that was of such constitutional importance to not just Scotland, but to the entire United Kingdom, it is significant that so many registered voters did not turn out to vote.

The referendum presents a perfect case study of a close-run vote that commentators and pollsters said could go either way, and a campaign that has been at the forefront of media attention for the past two years. It is inconceivable to imagine that these voters ‘did not care’, ‘forgot about’ or were ‘apathetic’ to such an important question.

It has certainly been one of the most digitally engaging campaigns with millions of people taking part in the debate online on all kinds of social media platforms with tweets, statuses, videos, vines, and photos.

It is rare to have such engaging political campaigns, but we should build on this and ensure that everyone is able to have their voice counted in democratic decisions.

Do you think the introduction of an online voting option could help bridge that gap in future elections? We are keen to hear.

If you haven’t already, take our short one-minute survey on politics, social media, and online voting here and email us your thoughts on why over half a million didn’t vote to hello@webrootsdemocracy.org.

VIDEO: Should the UK get e-voting?

On Tuesday 9th of September, Sky News hosted an online debate about the potential for online voting (also known as e-voting) for the UK.

This was done as part of their Stand Up Be Counted campaign which aims to discuss political issues that matter to young people in the run up to the next General Election.

The debate was hosted by Sky’s Senior Political Correspondent, Jason Farrell and he was joined by Areeq Chowdhury from WebRoots Democracy, Emma Mulqueeny from the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy, and Marju Tamp from the National Youth Council in Estonia (where e-voting has been used since 2005).

Which Scottish #indyref campaign is leading on social media?

wetter togetherWith just over two weeks to go until Scotland decides it’s future in the Independence Referendum, WebRoots Democracy has analysed the social media followings of the two official campaigns who have been hitting social media hard with videos, statuses, twibbons and even ice-bucket challenges: Yes Scotland and Better Together.

This analysis is on the basis of Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ followers.

On Twitter and Facebook, the Yes Scotland campaign is the clear winner with 67% of the share on Twitter (67,766 followers), and 58% on Facebook (240,095 likes).  On Google+, Yes Scotland are edging it with 51.1% of the share (34,534 followers).

The Better Together campaign has 33,140 Twitter followers, 174,366 Facebook likes, and 33,031 Google+ followers.

There is no data currently available for the number of YouTube subscribers to Yes Scotland’s channel, however in the number of views, Better Together is leading with 1,036,668 views compared to the Yes campaign’s 600,333.  However, this may be in part due to Better Together’s ‘The woman who made up her mind‘ video which came under heavy criticism on social media.

Not including YouTube, the Yes Scotland campaign is winning on social media with 58.7% compared to Better Together’s 41.3%.

Away from the Scottish Independence debate, in terms of political parties’ social media presence, far-right party Britain First is still leading on Facebook and Twitter with a combined following of 413,418, followed by the Conservatives (376,951); Labour (334,103); UKIP (303,932); Liberal Democrats (171,332); BNP (170,746); and the Green Party (144,458).

The 10% turnout in the West Midlands PCC by-election represents an embarrassment to UK democracy

wm policeEarly reports from the West Midlands suggest that just over one in ten people voted in the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) by-election yesterday. The estimate is that turnout was 10.32% meaning that around 1.8million people (out of an electorate of 2million) did not vote for their new Commissioner.

The turnout in Coventry and Sandwell were in single digit figures.

PCCs are elected representatives who work to ensure that the police forces in England and Wales run effectively. There are no PCCs in London. The role of the PCC is to hold police forces to account and to be a public voice for policing.

The turnout in this election is one of the lowest in UK election history and is even lower than the original 12% obtained in November 2012. According to the Birmingham Mail, the turnout in some wards was as low as 1% with less than ten votes in student area, Selly Oak, put down to the vote being held during the summer break.

There are various reasons for why this turnout is so low including a lack of demand and awareness about PCCs and the fact that the vote was held just before a Bank Holiday weekend during the summer.

Whilst the PCC has a range of responsibilities such as appointing and dismissing Chief Constables, ensuring value for money, setting out the force’s strategy and priorities, and setting the force’s budget; an election where 90% of the electorate did not vote brings into question the legitimacy and mandate of such PCCs.

Ultimately, this is an election turnout that represents an embarrassment for UK democracy particularly in the wake of a 34% turnout in the Local and European Elections in May.

There is no silver bullet for such a democratic crisis; however a number of steps are needed to reform the system if elected representatives such as PCCs are to be held accountable.

Erdington MP, Jack Dromey called the election a ‘blow to democracy’ and many have questioned why this election was held in a summer month when many voters would be away on holiday or have childcare responsibilities.

Logistically, the accessibility of online voting has the potential to improve the dismally low turnouts of by-elections (which average 38.6% since 2010) that are often held outside of common election periods; however greater investment is needed to raise awareness of the role of PCCs and to boost the coverage of local by-elections as they occur.

Labour’s David Jamieson won the election and has been declared as the new West Midlands PCC.

Turnout broken down by area: Birmingham (10.26%), Coventry (9.54%), Dudley (11.4%), Sandwell (9.8%), Solihull (11.58%), Walsall (10.72%), Wolverhampton (10.19%).