The UK Government has rejected the request from a number disability charities and voters with disabilities to pilot an online voting option in elections. Following last year’s consultation ‘Access to Elections’, the Government has published their response to how elections can be made accessible for voters with disabilities and vision impairments.
The consultation notes the ‘significant benefit’ new technology has had in the form of online voter registration, but that providing the option to vote online would be a particular fraud risk for those with disabilities as they are ‘already vulnerable’. Online voting was a reform called for by ‘many respondents’ particularly those affected by vision impairments ‘for whom paper as a medium creates problems’.
54% of respondents to the Royal National Institute for Blind People and the Thomas Pocklington Trust’s survey called for the introduction of online voting. It was also a reform favoured by respondents affected with mental illnesses. Other charities which have called for pilots of online voting include Leonard Cheshire Disability, the Royal Society for Blind Children, Scope, and Disability Equality Scotland.
The Government’s response states that, despite the demand, online voting was not considered as a solution due to ‘a wider issue about the security and integrity of e-voting’. The response goes on to state:
“There may be potential benefits for some groups in using e-voting but there are significant concerns about the security of online voting and increased risk of electoral fraud and providing unproven systems to people who are already vulnerable in terms of engagement and participation would not be helpful.”
Online voting is already used for elections run by the Conservatives, Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats, and the Greens. In 2015, the Conservatives elected Zac Goldsmith as their London Mayor candidate with online voting and were due to use it again to elect the successor to David Cameron before Andrea Leadsom dropped out of the race. The Labour Party used online voting in both their recent leadership elections, with 81% voting online instead of by paper in 2015.
Online voting is also an option in elections around the world in countries such as Australia, Estonia, and Switzerland. The Scottish and Welsh Governments have both committed to piloting the technology in future elections.
Areeq Chowdhury, Chief Executive of WebRoots Democracy, said:
“It is deeply disappointing that despite asking voters with disabilities to tell them how to make elections accessible, the Government has chosen to not even consider the potential of online voting, a reform called for by many of the respondents to the consultation.
Disability charities and campaigners have consistently called for pilots of online voting. By the Government’s own admission, paper-based elections are not accessible for many voters with disabilities and vision impairments. Furthermore, online voting is already used by every major political party in the UK. If it’s safe enough to elect future Prime Ministers, why isn’t it safe enough to allow disabled voters choose who their local councillor or MP is? The Government has failed to answer this.
If we are to be serious about suffrage in the 21st century, we should listen to the voices of those campaigning for the vote, innovate, and trial online voting for elections.”
The Government’s response to the Access to Elections consultation can be accessed here.