Institute for Digital Democracy launched to ‘transform the way voters experience politics’

Social media on smartphoneThe Institute for Digital Democracy (IDD) – the first think tank to specifically explore opportunities for the digitalisation of British politics – will launch this Wednesday (12th October) from the House of Commons.

Endorsed by a cross-party coalition of policy-makers, the think tank will reveal its research plans along with details of its Advisory Council – a group of academics, businesses and digital experts – that will help generate recommendations on how the government and voters can benefit from the digital advancement of British politics.

The IDD is launching with a call for London to have online voting introduced in 2020 when the City Hall and Parliamentary elections are likely to clash for the first time.

The launch event, that will welcome guests from across the political and digital sectors, will host keynote speeches from the Conservative Party’s Matt Warman MP and the Liberal Democrats’ Rt Hon Tom Brake MP. Both speakers will address guests on behalf of the IDD’s coalition of political ambassadors – a cross-party group of parliamentarians promoting the case for digital democracy within Westminster.

The IDD’s Advisory Council includes representatives from the University of Birmingham, Google and the Trades Union Congress as current members. The Council will be used to support the IDD in terms of research and campaigning – with members on hand to offer expert advice and provide input on research recommendations.


Commenting on the launch of the IDD, founder and Chief Executive, Areeq Chowdhury, said:

“British democracy is long overdue for an upgrade.  It isn’t good enough to sit on our hands and hope that politics will catch up to the 21st century on its own when all of the evidence suggests otherwise.  With the advice of industry experts and academics, the Institute for Digital Democracy will deliver evidence-based tech policy to sustain the future of British democratic participation.

Through our research undertaken as WebRoots Democracy, we already know that online voting is a must in this day and age, and with an unprecedented administrative burden heading its way to London with the clash of the City Hall and Parliamentary elections in 2020, the Government should seek to pilot this technology in the capital as a matter of priority.

Nine out of ten elected politicians in this country were voted in on turnouts of less than 50%, and that simply isn’t good enough in what is supposed to be a beacon of democracy around the world.

In London, voter turnout in the Mayoral elections has never surpassed 50%.  This is something that should be a source of embarrassment and a wake-up call for successive Governments.

Technology isn’t a silver bullet, but it is fundamental to building a smart democratic process reflective of life in modern Britain.  Through the Institute for Digital Democracy, we will aim to transform the way voters experience politics.”

Born out of the pressure group WebRoots Democracy (a campaign promoting the case for online voting), the launch of the IDD will enable members to explore a wider research remit that examines the full intersection of technology and politics. Whilst the IDD will continue to campaign for online voting, it will also research areas that includes digitalising Westminster, social media campaign regulation, voter advice applications, and the reform of e-petitions.

UK Labour leader commits to introducing a ‘digital democracy’

Digital Democracy Manifesto launchUK Opposition Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has pledged that if elected under his leadership, the Labour Party will use digital advances to improve access to political information and engagement.

This morning, the Labour Leader launched his ‘Digital Democracy Manifesto‘ from Newspeak House in Shoreditch.

In his speech, Corbyn discussed the current need to “democratise the internet” and announced that Labour would look at introducing online voting in elections.

Access to information

Firstly, he outlined the disproportionate access to high speed broadband and mobile connectivity across the country, and how it creates barriers to information and learning.

“Across the country, outside of the South East and especially in rural and remote parts of the UK, people are struggling with slow or no internet. In today’s connected age, this inequality of coverage is not trivial – it is a source of social and economic isolation”

On the topic of readily available information, the Labour leader pledged to launch what he describes as a “free-to-use online hub” called an ‘Open Knowledge Library’, a digital repository of lessons, lectures, and curricula.

Labour leadership challenge

Jeremy Corbyn: “If we can be sure of its reliability, we’ll introduce online voting in elections.”

Access to engagement

He went on to discuss how he would improve democratic engagement amongst the electorate, promising a more accessible, open debate on political affairs.

“We will organise online and offline meetings for individuals and communities to deliberate about pressing political issues and participate in devising new legislation. And if we can be sure of its reliability, we will look to introduce online voting in elections.”

In contrast to the post-Brexit whisperings of young voter apathy, Corbyn promoted the zealousness of the younger generation, and stated that “the creativity of the networked young generation is phenomenal. We have tens of thousands of young volunteers on our campaign all over the UK taking part in this digital revolution”

The Opposition Leader concluded that if the party are elected under his leadership, he will commit to making the above changes.

“The challenge is to now take this forward to the next general election. Labour under my leadership will utilise the advances of digital technology so that we can mobilise the most visible, targeted and effective General Election campaign in British history”

Reacting to the online voting announcement, WebRoots Democracy published a statement calling for “all political parties and the prime minister to back the reform”.

WebRoots Democracy’s statement can be read on the Guardian website, and in full here.

Pickles’ election reforms risk creating further barriers to voting

By Areeq Chowdhury.

polling stationI’ve finally had the chance to have a read of Eric Pickles’ long-awaited review into electoral fraud, and I think I agree with the analysis which describes it as the use of “a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

Whilst a lot of the recommended reforms are welcome in the way they strengthen the process against fraud, many of the other reforms risk creating further barriers to voting and potentially discriminate against ethnic minorities.

Overall, the review amounts to some tinkering of the aged paper-based methods, and fails to look towards to the future of voting and towards the use of technology to create a more secure system of voting.  Whilst voter fraud has had significant consequences in pockets of the country, the recommended restrictions risk deepening the more pressing issue of poor voter turnouts.

The requirement for voters to produce identification at polling stations is a welcome recommendation, and the current lack of requirement is something I have questioned for a while. Under the current system, any Tom, Dick or Harry can walk into a polling station, claim to be someone else and cast a vote, perhaps even repeatedly in one day. Malicious individuals may end up using fake IDs, but some safeguard in this area is better than no safeguard at all.

Conservative Party Spring Forum

Sir Eric Pickles, the Government’s Anti-Corruption Champion, was asked to carry out a review of voter fraud and to make recommendations.

Other recommendations, however, such as the ban on the use of non-English or Welsh languages at polling stations serve no purpose other than to discriminate against voters who struggle with their command of the English language. This ban would include ‘any assistance given to electors by electoral staff.’

This recommendation would particularly discriminate against ethnic minorities or other individuals for whom English is not their first language. According to the 2011 Census, English is not the main language for more than 4 million people in the UK. In the London Borough of Newham, only 58.6% declared that English was their main language. Newham is a borough in which 71% of the population are from an ethnic minority background.

It is relatively easy, therefore, to see how a ban on the use of non-English languages to assist voters who do not have a strong command of the language is likely to make it much harder for those citizens to vote. The solution, surely, is to invest in reaching out to those citizens more and educating them about how the democratic process works, rather than to implement measures which serve only to isolate them.

Another recommendation which concerns me, is the idea of banning the option of being able to permanently request a postal vote. Whilst I understand the thinking behind it, particularly with cases such as Tower Hamlets, in which postal voting fraud was carried out, this particular measure risks creating a further barrier to voting for those with disabilities. The recommendation in the Pickles Review is for voters to reapply for a postal vote every three years.

I also question the recommendation for the Government to retain the IP addresses used to make voter registration applications. The Government themselves invested in voter registration schemes in which people went out to register voters on a single device, such as an iPad. The suggestion of the Government retaining ‘IP-matching’ data has been a topic of contention in British politics and in particular with regards to the so-called “Snoopers Charter.”

Despite this, suggestions such as increasing the maximum sentences for electoral fraud, and increased training for election staff are welcome measures which should be brought in before the next elections.

Although Sir Eric speaks of the “need to support engagement and not create undue barriers to democratic participation”, there is little, if anything, which looks at measures to support voter engagement. What the report does recognise, however, are the security flaws in the current democratic process.

Moving forward, we should look to the future and have a conversation about modernising our elections, rather than purely tinkering here and there with an outdated process, particularly if that tinkering restricts legitimate electors from voting.

Areeq Chowdhury is the Founder of WebRoots Democracy.

Why are we still disabling Democracy?

by  Nathalie Hulbert.



St George’s Church, Tameside being used as a polling station in 2010

Constitutionally, the Government are not obliged to call another General Election until 2020. According to Theresa May, the British public “do not have an appetite” for one.

That being said, I am of the opinion that just about anything could happen. Few of us predicted that by July 2016 Britain would no longer be in the EU, that there would be a mass exodus of Brexit’s key political proponents, and that David Cameron would step down, paving the way for an interim PM, Larry the cat (who, by the way, had as much of an electoral mandate as his successor).

Whether we have another election in four months or four years, we can certainly use this period of relative calm to review our archaic voting system. I touched upon the various arguments for online voting in my previous blog post. Now I am going to elaborate on the most troubling one.

Disabled people are being denied equal voting rights.

Within the UK, disabled people make up 20% of the voting population, and are being failed by a system which simply does not accommodate their needs.

Following the 2010 General Election, a study conducted by Scope, found that 67% of polling stations had barriers to voting, including a lack of accessible booths, wheelchair ramps or hearing loops for deaf people.

A more recent study by Mencap found that  1 in 5 of the people who did register to vote, were turned away because of their learning disability.

Scope pic 3Scope pic 1

Scope pic 2

Source: Scope report- Polls Apart.2010

Setbacks from the get-go.

For many disabled voters, challenges begin further ahead of election day.

We need to consider people with serious mental health issues. There are some people in this country who are severely depressed and struggle enough to manage day to day tasks. Are we going to penalise them if they do not register at their current address two weeks in advance?

We need to consider people with learning disabilities, who may struggle to comprehend the complex registration conditions. Mencap found 60% of people with learning disabilities didn’t register to vote in the last election because they found the process of registering too difficult.

We need to consider people who suffer from agoraphobia, people with severe social anxiety, people with developmental disorders.  For some of these sufferers, queues and crowds at the polling station are not just a minor inconvenience. They are a personal hell.

We need to consider people with a physical impairment, who cannot simply pop down to the polling station.What about those living in Central London, who aren’t near one of the 25% of tube stations that have step-free access?

We need to consider whether we can call ourselves a Democracy whilst the above issues continue to exist.

” For many disabled people the experience of voting hasn’t improved. Many are often left with a feeling of being disenfranchised because of the various access barriers they face in exercising their right to vote. This, together with the under-representation of disabled people in all areas of public and political life, sends a clear message that progress must be accelerated”- John Bercow. Speaker of the House of Commons

To sum up so far, at least 20% of the UK population will have great difficulty registering to vote, getting to the polling station itself, or receiving the same privacy and respect as non-disabled people when casting their vote.

So how can we address all of their various hindrances all in one go?

A Digital Democracy for all.

If we had the option of voting online disabled people could vote from the privacy of their own home.

We could ensure audio options for blind people.

We could eliminate the complexity and stringency of the current registration process, making it easier for those with learning disabilities and mental health problems.

We could ensure that people who are mentally, developmentally or physically impaired won’t have to travel to a polling station which may or may not provide them with adequate access and privacy.

We could ensure, for the first time, equal voting rights for the entire British electorate.


People voting in the EU Referendum

US, Brazilian, Belgium, Estonian, Australian, Spanish and Indian Governments all use online voting in at least one of their electoral processes.

According to Priit Vinkel, chief of staff at the Estonia’s National Electoral Committee, at Estonia’s last General Election “the real impact was on ‘borderline’ voters. People with disabilities used e-voting more than average”.

More recently, Barcelona’s Municipal Institute of Persons with Disabilities (IMPD) utilised online voting technology to to elect their representatives on the IMPD Governing Council, as part of an initiative to ensure confidentiality and participation.

“The successful deployment of Scytl Online Voting technology allowed members of the Municipal Institute of Persons with Disabilities (IMPD) to vote independently and with full privacy for the first time ever. The uptake of the online voting channel proved highly successful in the community with 47% of voters using the online voting channel” -Leticia Barcia, Scytl Online Voting Technology.

What now?

So it’s not just a theory.  Governments around the world are proving that online voting not only works, but also encourages participation from disabled voters. This is because for the first time in history, they are being provided with the same levels of access, independence and privacy as the rest of the electorate.

A Government petition for online voting ends tomorrow.  There is still time to support the cause. Sign the petition, like and share on your social media pages. Do it, for Democracy’s sake.

This article was originally posted on by Nathalie Hulbert, Digital Content Director at WebRoots Democracy.


Australian PM and Opposition Leader commit to online voting in elections

turnbullAustralian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and his opposition counterpart, Bill Shorten, have endorsed a cross-party push to introduce online voting in elections. The announcement came after Shorten conceded defeat to Turnbull’s Coalition in the recent federal elections in Australia.

It follows an eight day vote count which is yet to deliver a formal election result.

Shorten, the leader of the Labour Party, is to write to the Prime Minister, who is already an advocate of online voting, this week to offer cross-party support for the reform.

Whilst conceding defeat in the election, Shorten said:

“We’re a grown up democracy, it shouldn’t be taking eight days to find out who’s won and who’s lost.  I take nothing away from the professionalism of the Australian Electoral Commission, but it’s the 21st century.”

Responding in his victory speech, Prime Minister Turnbull backed the call saying that it is something that they “must look at” and that it has been a “passion” and “interest” of his for “a long time.”

turnbull shorten

Prime Minister Turnbull (L) and Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, are joining forces to call for online voting in elections.

In March, last year, the state of New South Wales in Australia held (at the time) the largest binding government online delivered election in the world using their iVote system.  The online voting method received a 97% satisfaction rate amongst users.

It is unclear what the position is of the incoming UK Prime Minister Theresa May on online voting, and the Government’s current stance may be affected by any potential Cabinet reshuffle.  The opposition Labour Party committed to piloting online voting in their 2015 manifesto with many of their MPs, including Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, vocally supportive of the reform.

Following the EU referendum, youth organisations in the UK, including the National Union of Students and Bite the Ballot, joined forces to tell the incoming Prime Minister to introduce online voting in an open letter published on the WebRoots Democracy website. More than a thousand people have also added their name to the petition for online voting on the Parliament website.

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

Conservatives to elect next UK Prime Minister in online voting election

david cameron resignationFollowing the resignation of David Cameron in the aftermath of the EU referendum, the Conservative Party are to elect a new leader and Prime Minister for the United Kingdom. Similar to the Conservatives’ selection of their 2016 London Mayoral Candidate, Zac Goldsmith, the election will be conducted via postal ballots and online voting.

This is according to the BBC, who also report that the postal ballots will be counted electronically.

Ballot papers will be sent out in the middle of August with voting closing at noon on the 9th of September.

The election of a Prime Minister is a rare occurrence in British politics, due to the Prime Minister usually being elected as the result of parliamentary elections in which the electorate vote for their local MPs.  The leader of the party with the majority of MPs then becomes Prime Minister.

However, as David Cameron has resigned mid-way through a parliamentary term, the decision of who becomes the next Prime Minister goes directly to the members of his Conservative Party.

The choice has been whittled down to two candidates, Home Secretary, Theresa May, and Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom.

may leadsom

Theresa May (L) and Andrea Leadsom (R) were on opposite sides of the EU referendum debate.

The Conservatives now join the Labour Party and the Scottish National Party in the use of online voting for leadership elections.  Last year, Labour Party members voted for Jeremy Corbyn in the largest online voting election in UK history, and in 2014, the Scottish National Party implemented an online voting option for their deputy leadership election.

The Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have also previously implemented online voting for internal party elections.

The decision of the Conservative Party to use online voting for high stakes elections such as the London Mayoral candidacy, and now the next Prime Minister, contrasts against the Government’s position on online voting for UK elections.  The Government is currently reluctant to introduce the reform due to not having “certainty” on its security.

It also contrasts against their stance on introducing online voting for trade union strike ballots.

Writing in response to WebRoots Democracy’s Secure Voting report earlier this year, John Penrose MP, Minister for Constitutional Reform said, however, that the Government is keeping it “under close review.”

Following the EU referendum, youth organisations in the UK, including the National Union of Students and Bite the Ballot, joined forces to tell the Government to introduce online voting in an open letter published on the WebRoots Democracy website.  More than a thousand people have also added their name to the petition for online voting on the Parliament website.

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

UPDATE (11/07/2016): Following the withdrawal of Andrea Leadsom from the leadership race, there will no longer be a membership election and Theresa May has been appointed the new UK Prime Minister.

Open letter: Youth organisations unite behind call for online voting

petition front page

To the incoming Prime Minister,

The UK has just finished taking part in its biggest democratic exercise for a generation. Overall voter turnout may have reached 72% but not amongst young people.  According to polling data, only 36% of young people aged 18 to 24 voted – significantly lower than the proportion that turned out to vote in last year’s General Election and much lower than older age groups.

The causes are many but some are easier to fix than others. One of those is our out-dated voting system which is alien to millennials who live much of their lives digitally. The EU referendum vote coincided with university and summer holidays, as well as Glastonbury, so many more young people were away from home.

Online voting would have given young people a choice of how to vote, making it easier and more relevant to their lifestyles. Young people want this. Surveys show that young people would be much more likely to vote if they could so online.

As representatives of groups campaigning to include more young people in politics, and with the prospect of another general election looming, we are calling on the the UK government to act now to upgrade our voting system. Of course, online voting is not a silver bullet but it is a powerful and necessary tool to help increase participation. It should not be ignored.

Young people are the ones who will have to live with the consequences of this vote for generations to come. Let’s do everything we can to enable their full participation in our democracy. If we do not do so we risk leaving a whole generation even further behind.

We look forward to your response.

Areeq Chowdhury, Chief Executive of WebRoots Democracy
Oliver Sidorczcuk, Advocacy Coordinator at Bite the Ballot
Malia Bouattia, President of the National Union of Students
Mete Coban, Chief Executive of MyLifeMySay
Rachael Farrington, Founder of Voting Counts
Alice Memminger, Chief Executive of UpRising

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

The results of a YouGov poll commissioned by WebRoots Democracy and Smartmatic, published today, has found that online voting could have boosted youth voter turnout by 1.1 million in the EU referendum.

WebRoots Democracy is an independent, youth-led, organisation leading the campaign for the introduction of online voting in the United Kingdom.

Bite the Ballot is a party-neutral movement working to empower young people in democracy.

The National Union of Students is a confederation of student unions in the United Kingdom representing 95% of all higher and further education unions.

MyLifeMySay is a youth-led charitable organisation engaging young people in politics.

Voting Counts is a non-profit organisation which works on educating young people about politics with unbiased resources.

UpRising is a UK-wide youth leadership development organisation working with talented young people from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds.