By Areeq Chowdhury.
It’s time for political parties to commit to online voting.
The report published today by the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy pulls together almost a year’s worth of detailed research into how Parliament can better engage with the electorate through the use of technology.
A strong and prominent recommendation within this report is that ‘by 2020, secure online voting should be an option for all voters.’ This echoes the call in a report by the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in November 2014 that urged the Government to run pilots in the next Parliament ‘with a view to all electors having the choice of voting online at the 2020 General Election.’
The Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB) has also called for online voting to be introduced in time for the 2020 election.
Online voting is something that I have been campaigning hard for this past year through my work in setting up WebRoots Democracy.
So far, only the Labour Party have committed to trialling online voting in the next Parliament, with their political reform lead Sadiq Khan MP writing that democracy in the UK is ‘stuck in a time warp’.
Compared to the post-1945 elections of the 20th Century, the average turnout in General Elections this century has dropped by 14 percentage points to just 62%.
The picture is even worse when you examine the less high-profile elections in the UK. The average voter turnout for the London Mayor, Welsh Assembly, Local Council, and European Parliament elections are all less than 50%. The turnout in the 2012 Police and Crime Commissioner elections was a measly 15%.
Whilst there are other issues that affect voter participation such as trust in politicians, education, and the policies of political parties, there is lots of evidence to suggest that online voting would increase turnout.
In a survey carried out by WebRoots Democracy, 71% of respondents said they would be more likely to vote if they could do so online.
This is particularly the case amongst young people.
In a recent study of youth engagement by Demos and vInspired, researchers found that 66% of young people would be more likely to vote if they could do so online. Similarly, the Sky News Stand Up Be Counted survey found that 4 out of 5 young people would be more likely to do so.
It goes without saying that security is a key requirement for any voting system.
Estonia is the most notable example of secure online voting. They have been doing so in Parliamentary elections since 2007 and in their last election, in 2011, almost a quarter of all votes were cast online.
It’s now time for the UK to take a lead.
Today’s report is a very welcome one and I hope that all political parties give the recommendations within it serious consideration when they pull together their manifestos for the upcoming General Election.
Areeq Chowdhury is the Founder of WebRoots Democracy.
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This was originally published on the Sky News website here.