It is time for the UK to start researching and developing a system of online voting for local and general elections. If we are to be serious about tackling low voter turnouts, we need to modernise the method of selecting our political representatives. Amongst the other often cited causes of low turnout such as distrust in politicians and ‘apathy’, we need to recognise that our system of voting has remained static whilst everything else we do in life has advanced rapidly.
No longer do we have to buy a stamp and an envelope to send a message. No longer do we have to store documents in clunky filing cabinets. No longer do we have to look through a window to go window-shopping. And no longer do we have to go to the bank to make a transfer or check our balance. Thanks to the internet, these tasks are simpler, easier, and more efficient.
However, whilst a lot of our everyday tasks have been digitalised and made easier, our method of voting in politicians every 4 or 5 years has remained the same as it has been since 1872; by ink and paper.
Currently, over half of the UK population have Facebook accounts, 15 million of us are on Twitter, and millions of us shop online, bank online, and digest news online. It is now time, that we look into voting online. I have written before about the need for online voting, but today I would like to introduce the UK’s first campaign for online voting: WebRoots Democracy.
Much like grassroots activism, WebRoots Democracy aims to galvanise everyday, online users to engage with their political system and help drag it into the twenty-first century. In addition to campaigning for online voting, we will also be seeking elections to be interactive and integrated with social media in order to reach out to more people and direct people to an informative ‘voting website’.
Whilst online voting will benefit everyone of all ages to vote, we recognise that there are various causes of low voter turnout, particularly amongst young people. As such, the organisation will also be researching and highlighting these causes and help ensure that the voice of young people is heard amongst the decision-makers in Westminster.
The recent local and European elections were interesting with regards to online activity. There was extensive campaigning by all political parties on social media, including sponsored adverts to ‘like’ David Cameron’s Facebook page, numerous requests for retweets from the Labour Party, and extensive coverage of the rise of UKIP with the party trending regularly on election day. As well as this, in the last year we’ve seen some very creative online campaigning such as David Cameron’s ‘Look Back’ video, Nick Clegg apologising, and numerous memes of Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich. However, despite the online campaigns and everybody talking about UKIP, these actions haven’t translated into a significant increase in voter turnout. The turnout for the local elections is estimated to be just 36%.
On election day, I was pleased to see that Facebook had created a special button to allow users to let their friends know that they are planning to vote in the European elections. It is exactly this sort of direction that we should be heading towards. In order to modernise our democracy we need to reach out to the online community. In addition to a button telling Facebook friends that you are planning to vote, we could have one that directs to the voting website. Without this modernisation, we are essentially asking people who are browsing Facebook or reading tweets to go outside to a polling station either before their rush hour commute or after their long day at work. To me, it seems unlikely.
But it doesn’t have to continue being this way. The technology exists to securely transmit sensitive data online. Millions access their bank accounts online, purchase goods online, and in 2011 we were able to complete the census form online for the first ever time. What is required now is to push it up the political agenda and actually make it a reality. If you have read this far and would like to get involved and help build a more representative democracy, do check out our website or send me an email.
The campaign for online voting starts here.
This was originally published on the Huffington Post here.