Online voting would raise turnout by 4.7m and cut the cost-per-vote by 26%

A new report, Cost of Voting, published today, calls for the UK Government to pilot online voting in elections finding that it would save £18m per election and boost voter turnout by 4.7m. A survey of 1,680 people commissioned for the report found that voting online would be the most preferred option for voters under the age of 50. The report, produced by digital democracy think tank, WebRoots Democracy, is backed by cross-party politicians including John McDonnell, Lord Lexden, and Hannah Bardell.

Cost of Voting makes six recommendations which includes pilots of online voting in elections, and for the Government to consider replacing poll cards with emails. The estimated cost of printing and distributing poll cards is £10.7m. The report shines a light on a number of costs including an estimated £32,000 spent on more than 300,000 pencils at polling stations, and £3m being spent on opening postal vote envelopes. Based on the results of the survey, the report predicts that the proportion of people voting at polling stations would fall from 78% to 38%, with a third of the electorate choosing to vote online instead.

election count old
The report estimates that £6.3m is spent on counting ballot papers in a UK-wide election.

The report examines, in granular detail, how money is spent on elections currently featuring everything from the cost of pencils to the cost of hiring polling stations. It is based on the results of more than 400 freedom of information requests, a survey of over 1,600 adults, and a roundtable held in London. It includes forewords from Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP; Conservative Peer, Lord Lexden; the SNP’s Hannah Bardell MP; and Tom Brake MP from the Liberal Democrats.

Online voting is a reform currently being explored by the Welsh Government and something the think tank argues would benefit young people, voters with disabilities, and citizens overseas the most.

Chief Executive of WebRoots Democracy, Areeq Chowdhury said:

“If democracy was reborn tomorrow and we came together to decide how our electoral system should operate, would it look remotely the same as it does today? The idea that we would decide to create a system based on spending millions and millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on posting poll cards, hand-opening thousands of envelopes, and purchasing 300,000 pencils seems far-fetched. In a tech-savvy country like the UK, we should lead from the front and reimagine a better democracy.”

Writing in the foreword of the report, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP said:

“Labour welcomes the publication of WebRoots Democracy’s report into the economics of online voting. They have provided compelling evidence that digital technologies can provide a cost-effective method for increasing the number of people who can participate in elections. As long as the secrecy and verification of the ballot box are preserved, Labour believes that every citizen should be able to exercise their right to vote easily and conveniently with the most advanced tools available.”

Conservative Peer, Lord Lexden OBE said:

“Online voting is a reform that would enable British citizens overseas, our brave Armed Forces, and our citizens with vision impairments and disabilities to participate fully and easily in our democracy. As can be seen from the survey data in this report, it is a reform that would be popular amongst our younger generations above all – and they are our future.”

Download and read the Cost of Voting report here.

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