Labour Party

Online Voting: Time to drag our democracy into the 21st century

By Sadiq Khan MP.

The way we run our democracy is stuck in a time warp.  If we are serious about raising turnout at elections and getting more people involved in the way our country is run, then we need to do all we can to drag our democracy into the 21st Century.

We still have an Edwardian system of voter registration in which the ‘head of the household’ does their duty and signs up everyone else in the property.  And voting itself is still primarily done in a 15 hour window, on a Thursday, but you need to visit a cold and dusty community centre for the privilege.

There’s one or two signs that things are going in the right direction.  Finally it is possible to register to vote online, something over 1.5million people have already made the most of.  Postal votes are more widely available to anyone who requests one.  And the new individual electoral registration system, although far from risk free, will see voters take responsibility for getting themselves on the electoral register.

But we should be doing much more.  There were many lessons from the Scottish referendum, but getting 97% of eligible voters registered and with turnout touching 90% shows what can be achieved.  We should no longer be complacent in tolerating 7.5million eligible voters missing from the register – that’s seven cities the size of Sheffield.  Nor should we be pleased if turnout at elections breaks the 50% mark.  Scotland has shown the way.

That’s why I have unveiled a package of measures designed to drag our electoral system into the modern era.  If Labour wins the next election, we’ll allow election day registration for those who for whatever reason find themselves on polling day not on the register.  We’ll work with schools and colleges to get young people signed up.  When members of the public come into contact with branches of Government – their local authority, the Passport Office, DVLA and so on – registering to vote will be raised.

And for voting itself, we’ll open polling a week in advance and look into putting ballot boxes in prominent places like libraries and supermarkets.  We’ve also committed to lower the voting age to 16, and with the thousands of 16 and 17 year olds voting in the Scottish referendum there seems little reason why the law can’t be changed now, in time for next May’s General Election.

One thing I’ve been keen to explore further is online voting.  Instinctively I think it can only be a good thing for democracy.  Done properly, it would make voting easier, and could lead to improved turnout at elections.  It would bring the way we decide who runs our country in tune with the busy lives many people lead.

Given the alarmingly low number of under 25s who vote, it could particularly benefit younger people.  Doing more to engage the under 25s in our democracy must be a priority if we want to avoid storing up problems for the future.  At the 2010 election only 44% of young people voted, half the figure for those aged over 65.  All the evidence shows that if you vote when you first become eligible, you will keep on voting through your adult life.  But, sadly, the reverse is also true.

It is no wonder this Government’s policies have been skewed towards older people.  If more young people voted, I doubt they’d have cut Educational Maintenance Allowance or turned a blind eye to youth unemployment.

The UK has previously trialled online voting, most recently back in 2006.  Results were mixed and nothing much came of it.  But the explosion in the use of the internet since then has, in my view, strengthened the case for looking at this again.  In addition, back in March, the Electoral Commission called for online voting to help tackle falling turnout, supporting my view further.

That’s why, in my speech to the Labour Party conference in September, I committed the next Labour Government to trialling online voting.  We need to use these trials to look at the costs and whether it raises turnout.

But I am acutely aware of the risk of fraud.  Luckily the UK is relatively free of electoral fraud, but we should never be complacent.  However, if people can bank, obtain loans and pay bills online and now register to vote online, is it really that big a leap to be able to vote online too?

In the coming months as we approach the next election I will be working closely with experts across the field on how we can appropriately trial online voting.  We need to make sure it works, iron out any problems and minimise the threat of fraud.  But get it right and it could result in a transformation in how people engage in democracy, giving more people a stake in the way our country is run.  And that can only be a good thing.

The Rt. Hon. Sadiq Khan MP is the Shadow Justice Secretary, with special responsibility for political and constitutional reform.

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

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.

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).

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.