UK Government should pilot online voting for the Armed Forces abroad

Military Voting report cover imageAn online voting option in elections should be introduced for British military personnel posted overseas, according to a new report ‘Military Voting’ published today. The report, produced by digital democracy think tank, WebRoots Democracy, brings together voices of election experts and military representatives and outlines how members of the Armed Forces face significant barriers when it comes to voting in elections and referenda. These barriers include difficulties in registration and an unreliable postal voting system.

The report focuses on barriers to accessing information on candidates and policies, registering to vote, and casting an independent, secret ballot. The report builds upon a policy roundtable held at Newspeak House, on Friday 7 July 2017, with various organisations including the Royal British Legion, the Army Families Federation, and the Electoral Commission, as well as existing research and new data. It includes forewords from Labour MP and former British Army Major, Dan Jarvis, and the Conservative Peer, Lord Lexden OBE.

Military Voting makes six recommendations which include pilots of online voting in elections, and for the Government to track the number of military personnel overseas that are on the electoral register. The report argues that the existing methods of postal and proxy voting for overseas military personnel restrict their right to cast a secret ballot, and that the UK should follow countries such as Australia and the USA by exploring the potential of online voting for the Armed Forces.

british navy
Just under 10,000 British military personnel are currently posted overseas.

The publication coincides with services marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendale, one of the most intense periods of fighting during World War One.

Chief Executive of WebRoots Democracy, Areeq Chowdhury said:

“A true democracy is one that is open and accessible to all eligible voters. Our democracy here in the UK is well defended by those who serve in our military, however it is clear that there are many members of our armed forces who are denied access to that democracy. The barriers to democratic engagement for our military personnel posted overseas should be dismantled, and technology has a role to play in doing so. Online voting is a reform that must be explored by the Government. With around 10,000 UK military personnel posted overseas, it would be a low risk, but high impact project that, in 2017, is surely worth exploring.”

Writing in the foreword of the report, Labour’s Dan Jarvis MBE MP said:

“In a democracy, it is essential that every citizen has the ability to get involved and have a say. Unfortunately, in our existing system, many Armed Forces personnel have limited access to the democracy they defend. The troops who put their safety before our own to bravely fight for our democracy, should never be denied access to it.”

Conservative Peer, Lord Lexden OBE said:

“It is unacceptable that our courageous troops who have uprooted their lives to defend ours are forgotten by our electoral system. We must explore the possibilities of new technology and learn how best we can harness them for the good of our democratic process in order to include these often forgotten voters.”

Download and read the Military Voting report here.

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