general election 2015

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.

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.

Women are at risk of falling off the electoral register – and out of the political debate

By Councillor Abena Oppong-Asare.

As we take the time to recognise and celebrate the achievements of women today, it’s important to recognise the low turnout of women at the last general election. A study carried out by the ‘House of Commons Library at the request of Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, showed that 9.1 million women didn’t turn out to vote in the 2010 general election’.  The number of women turning up to vote has declined over the years. In 2005 and 2010 there were more male voters than female. Furthermore, 64 per cent of women voted in the last general election, compared to 67 per cent of men. The difference is even wider amongst younger voters with only 39 per cent of young women voting compared to 50 per cent of young men.

The general election on 7 May is going to be crucial and the number of women that turn up to vote will certainly make an impact on which political party gains power. It’s therefore really important that women turn out to vote. It is alarming to read that in 2015 that the turnout gap between sexes is getting wider, with women falling further behind when it comes to voting.

Gender inequality stills exists in the UK. The Equal Pay Act was passed 44 years ago and women still earn just 81p for every pound a man earns. Furthermore, the government’s own figures estimate that two-thirds (400,000) of those hit by the bedroom tax are women.

It is clear that there are many issues that affect women, but I believe that voting enables you to push for greater equality. It’s important that women are informed that the coalition has made changes to electoral law which means that registration must be completed individually, rather than by household. I know from speaking to many people in my role as a councillor that a lot of people are not aware of these changes, which potentially means they’ll miss out on being able to vote. I believe that it is important that people are informed of the changes, but unfortunately, the government reforms have failed to tackle this. Women not turning up to vote will be particularly bad for UK democracy because governments develop policy and party manifestos to appeal and reach out to voters and, largely, ignore those that don’t vote.

There are many factors that have affected the turnout of women going to vote. I come across many women on the doorstep, who are disengaged with the politics, parties and the voting process. Currently, men outnumber women 4 to 1 in Parliament, where women just make up just 22 per cent of MPs.  I am part of the Fabian Women’s Network Executive and we try to hold and attend events involving and encouraging women to participate in policy matters. We also offer a mentoring scheme to help women develop their political and public life skills.

All political parties need to come together to broaden the opportunities of the electoral process. A lot of women, like young people live on mobile phones, tablets and laptops and we should move towards online voting to tap in those that are already engaged in politics through various means such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs. On Tuesday 2 March, Areeq Chowdhury, Founder of WebRoots Democracy launched his report ‘Viral Voting’ in Parliament. The findings in the report show that online voting would encourage women, particularly young women, to vote than it would for men. Furthermore, that it could boost overall turnout in a general election by 9 million and boost youth voter turnout by 1.8 million, taking turnout to 70 per cent, up from 44 per cent in the 2010 general election. With these figures in mind, I urge you to read the report and join WebRoots Democracy’s campaign for online voting as it has the potential to help increase female voter turnout.

Abena Oppong-Asare is a Councillor in Bexley, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Group, and on the Fabian Women’s Network Executive.

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 New Statesman here.

Far-right party, Britain First, now has the largest social media presence

In the run up to the 2015 General Election, WebRoots Democracy will be analysing the social media followings of the main political parties and publishing monthly ‘Election by Social Media’ results.

This analysis is on the basis of Facebook and Twitter followers and generates a percentage share of followers, where in this case followers equals votes.

Below are the results for June 29th, 2014:

Election by Social Media june

Britain First is a far-right, nationalist party formed by ex-members of the British National Party in 2011.  It has no elected representatives in Local Councils, the European Parliament, or the UK Parliament, but the popularity of its Facebook page has surged since the 2014 D-Day.

In this analysis, Britain First are ahead of the Conservatives by 8.9 percentage points on social media as a result of a stronger Facebook following (497,554 likes).

Labour have the best Twitter presence, however, with 142,629 followers; over 28,000 followers ahead of the Conservative Party.

UKIP are also performing strongly on Facebook (226,091 likes) making up for a poor Twitter following (62,663).

The Liberal Democrats take 5th place, thanks to a stronger Facebook presence.  On Twitter, they are almost neck-and-neck with the Green Party.

Similar to UKIP, Britain First have a weak Twitter presence with just 3,655 followers.

See last month’s analysis here.

Election by Social Media

In the run up to the 2015 General Election, WebRoots Democracy will be analysing the social media followings of the main political parties and publishing monthly ‘Election by Social Media’ results.

This analysis is on the basis of Facebook and Twitter followers and generates a percentage share of followers, where in this case followers equals votes.

Below are the results for May 31st, 2014:

Election by Social Media - May 31

In this analysis, the Conservatives are just edging Labour by 0.2% on social media as a result of a stronger Facebook following (203,175 likes).

Labour have the best Twitter presence, however, with 139,546 followers; over 27,000 followers ahead of the Conservative Party.

UKIP are also performing strongly on Facebook (194,058 likes) making up for a poor Twitter following (61,716).

The Liberal Democrats take 4th place, thanks to a stronger Facebook presence.  On Twitter, they are almost neck-and-neck with the Green Party.