Author: webrootsdemocracy

Institute for Digital Democracy launched to ‘transform the way voters experience politics’

Social media on smartphoneThe Institute for Digital Democracy (IDD) – the first think tank to specifically explore opportunities for the digitalisation of British politics – will launch this Wednesday (12th October) from the House of Commons.

Endorsed by a cross-party coalition of policy-makers, the think tank will reveal its research plans along with details of its Advisory Council – a group of academics, businesses and digital experts – that will help generate recommendations on how the government and voters can benefit from the digital advancement of British politics.

The IDD is launching with a call for London to have online voting introduced in 2020 when the City Hall and Parliamentary elections are likely to clash for the first time.

The launch event, that will welcome guests from across the political and digital sectors, will host keynote speeches from the Conservative Party’s Matt Warman MP and the Liberal Democrats’ Rt Hon Tom Brake MP. Both speakers will address guests on behalf of the IDD’s coalition of political ambassadors – a cross-party group of parliamentarians promoting the case for digital democracy within Westminster.

The IDD’s Advisory Council includes representatives from the University of Birmingham, Google and the Trades Union Congress as current members. The Council will be used to support the IDD in terms of research and campaigning – with members on hand to offer expert advice and provide input on research recommendations.


Commenting on the launch of the IDD, founder and Chief Executive, Areeq Chowdhury, said:

“British democracy is long overdue for an upgrade.  It isn’t good enough to sit on our hands and hope that politics will catch up to the 21st century on its own when all of the evidence suggests otherwise.  With the advice of industry experts and academics, the Institute for Digital Democracy will deliver evidence-based tech policy to sustain the future of British democratic participation.

Through our research undertaken as WebRoots Democracy, we already know that online voting is a must in this day and age, and with an unprecedented administrative burden heading its way to London with the clash of the City Hall and Parliamentary elections in 2020, the Government should seek to pilot this technology in the capital as a matter of priority.

Nine out of ten elected politicians in this country were voted in on turnouts of less than 50%, and that simply isn’t good enough in what is supposed to be a beacon of democracy around the world.

In London, voter turnout in the Mayoral elections has never surpassed 50%.  This is something that should be a source of embarrassment and a wake-up call for successive Governments.

Technology isn’t a silver bullet, but it is fundamental to building a smart democratic process reflective of life in modern Britain.  Through the Institute for Digital Democracy, we will aim to transform the way voters experience politics.”

Born out of the pressure group WebRoots Democracy (a campaign promoting the case for online voting), the launch of the IDD will enable members to explore a wider research remit that examines the full intersection of technology and politics. Whilst the IDD will continue to campaign for online voting, it will also research areas that includes digitalising Westminster, social media campaign regulation, voter advice applications, and the reform of e-petitions.

Pickles’ election reforms risk creating further barriers to voting

By Areeq Chowdhury.

polling stationI’ve finally had the chance to have a read of Eric Pickles’ long-awaited review into electoral fraud, and I think I agree with the analysis which describes it as the use of “a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

Whilst a lot of the recommended reforms are welcome in the way they strengthen the process against fraud, many of the other reforms risk creating further barriers to voting and potentially discriminate against ethnic minorities.

Overall, the review amounts to some tinkering of the aged paper-based methods, and fails to look towards to the future of voting and towards the use of technology to create a more secure system of voting.  Whilst voter fraud has had significant consequences in pockets of the country, the recommended restrictions risk deepening the more pressing issue of poor voter turnouts.

The requirement for voters to produce identification at polling stations is a welcome recommendation, and the current lack of requirement is something I have questioned for a while. Under the current system, any Tom, Dick or Harry can walk into a polling station, claim to be someone else and cast a vote, perhaps even repeatedly in one day. Malicious individuals may end up using fake IDs, but some safeguard in this area is better than no safeguard at all.

Conservative Party Spring Forum

Sir Eric Pickles, the Government’s Anti-Corruption Champion, was asked to carry out a review of voter fraud and to make recommendations.

Other recommendations, however, such as the ban on the use of non-English or Welsh languages at polling stations serve no purpose other than to discriminate against voters who struggle with their command of the English language. This ban would include ‘any assistance given to electors by electoral staff.’

This recommendation would particularly discriminate against ethnic minorities or other individuals for whom English is not their first language. According to the 2011 Census, English is not the main language for more than 4 million people in the UK. In the London Borough of Newham, only 58.6% declared that English was their main language. Newham is a borough in which 71% of the population are from an ethnic minority background.

It is relatively easy, therefore, to see how a ban on the use of non-English languages to assist voters who do not have a strong command of the language is likely to make it much harder for those citizens to vote. The solution, surely, is to invest in reaching out to those citizens more and educating them about how the democratic process works, rather than to implement measures which serve only to isolate them.

Another recommendation which concerns me, is the idea of banning the option of being able to permanently request a postal vote. Whilst I understand the thinking behind it, particularly with cases such as Tower Hamlets, in which postal voting fraud was carried out, this particular measure risks creating a further barrier to voting for those with disabilities. The recommendation in the Pickles Review is for voters to reapply for a postal vote every three years.

I also question the recommendation for the Government to retain the IP addresses used to make voter registration applications. The Government themselves invested in voter registration schemes in which people went out to register voters on a single device, such as an iPad. The suggestion of the Government retaining ‘IP-matching’ data has been a topic of contention in British politics and in particular with regards to the so-called “Snoopers Charter.”

Despite this, suggestions such as increasing the maximum sentences for electoral fraud, and increased training for election staff are welcome measures which should be brought in before the next elections.

Although Sir Eric speaks of the “need to support engagement and not create undue barriers to democratic participation”, there is little, if anything, which looks at measures to support voter engagement. What the report does recognise, however, are the security flaws in the current democratic process.

Moving forward, we should look to the future and have a conversation about modernising our elections, rather than purely tinkering here and there with an outdated process, particularly if that tinkering restricts legitimate electors from voting.

Areeq Chowdhury is the Founder of WebRoots Democracy.

Australian PM and Opposition Leader commit to online voting in elections

turnbullAustralian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and his opposition counterpart, Bill Shorten, have endorsed a cross-party push to introduce online voting in elections. The announcement came after Shorten conceded defeat to Turnbull’s Coalition in the recent federal elections in Australia.

It follows an eight day vote count which is yet to deliver a formal election result.

Shorten, the leader of the Labour Party, is to write to the Prime Minister, who is already an advocate of online voting, this week to offer cross-party support for the reform.

Whilst conceding defeat in the election, Shorten said:

“We’re a grown up democracy, it shouldn’t be taking eight days to find out who’s won and who’s lost.  I take nothing away from the professionalism of the Australian Electoral Commission, but it’s the 21st century.”

Responding in his victory speech, Prime Minister Turnbull backed the call saying that it is something that they “must look at” and that it has been a “passion” and “interest” of his for “a long time.”

turnbull shorten

Prime Minister Turnbull (L) and Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, are joining forces to call for online voting in elections.

In March, last year, the state of New South Wales in Australia held (at the time) the largest binding government online delivered election in the world using their iVote system.  The online voting method received a 97% satisfaction rate amongst users.

It is unclear what the position is of the incoming UK Prime Minister Theresa May on online voting, and the Government’s current stance may be affected by any potential Cabinet reshuffle.  The opposition Labour Party committed to piloting online voting in their 2015 manifesto with many of their MPs, including Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, vocally supportive of the reform.

Following the EU referendum, youth organisations in the UK, including the National Union of Students and Bite the Ballot, joined forces to tell the incoming Prime Minister to introduce online voting in an open letter published on the WebRoots Democracy website. More than a thousand people have also added their name to the petition for online voting on the Parliament website.

Do you think the UK should introduce an online voting option for elections?  Take a moment to sign and share our e-petition.

Conservatives to elect next UK Prime Minister in online voting election

david cameron resignationFollowing the resignation of David Cameron in the aftermath of the EU referendum, the Conservative Party are to elect a new leader and Prime Minister for the United Kingdom. Similar to the Conservatives’ selection of their 2016 London Mayoral Candidate, Zac Goldsmith, the election will be conducted via postal ballots and online voting.

This is according to the BBC, who also report that the postal ballots will be counted electronically.

Ballot papers will be sent out in the middle of August with voting closing at noon on the 9th of September.

The election of a Prime Minister is a rare occurrence in British politics, due to the Prime Minister usually being elected as the result of parliamentary elections in which the electorate vote for their local MPs.  The leader of the party with the majority of MPs then becomes Prime Minister.

However, as David Cameron has resigned mid-way through a parliamentary term, the decision of who becomes the next Prime Minister goes directly to the members of his Conservative Party.

The choice has been whittled down to two candidates, Home Secretary, Theresa May, and Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom.

may leadsom

Theresa May (L) and Andrea Leadsom (R) were on opposite sides of the EU referendum debate.

The Conservatives now join the Labour Party and the Scottish National Party in the use of online voting for leadership elections.  Last year, Labour Party members voted for Jeremy Corbyn in the largest online voting election in UK history, and in 2014, the Scottish National Party implemented an online voting option for their deputy leadership election.

The Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have also previously implemented online voting for internal party elections.

The decision of the Conservative Party to use online voting for high stakes elections such as the London Mayoral candidacy, and now the next Prime Minister, contrasts against the Government’s position on online voting for UK elections.  The Government is currently reluctant to introduce the reform due to not having “certainty” on its security.

It also contrasts against their stance on introducing online voting for trade union strike ballots.

Writing in response to WebRoots Democracy’s Secure Voting report earlier this year, John Penrose MP, Minister for Constitutional Reform said, however, that the Government is keeping it “under close review.”

Following the EU referendum, youth organisations in the UK, including the National Union of Students and Bite the Ballot, joined forces to tell the Government to introduce online voting in an open letter published on the WebRoots Democracy website.  More than a thousand people have also added their name to the petition for online voting on the Parliament website.

Do you think the UK should introduce an online voting option for elections?  Take a moment to sign and share our e-petition.

UPDATE (11/07/2016): Following the withdrawal of Andrea Leadsom from the leadership race, there will no longer be a membership election and Theresa May has been appointed the new UK Prime Minister.

Open letter: Youth organisations unite behind call for online voting

petition front page

To the incoming Prime Minister,

The UK has just finished taking part in its biggest democratic exercise for a generation. Overall voter turnout may have reached 72% but not amongst young people.  According to polling data, only 36% of young people aged 18 to 24 voted – significantly lower than the proportion that turned out to vote in last year’s General Election and much lower than older age groups.

The causes are many but some are easier to fix than others. One of those is our out-dated voting system which is alien to millennials who live much of their lives digitally. The EU referendum vote coincided with university and summer holidays, as well as Glastonbury, so many more young people were away from home.

Online voting would have given young people a choice of how to vote, making it easier and more relevant to their lifestyles. Young people want this. Surveys show that young people would be much more likely to vote if they could so online.

As representatives of groups campaigning to include more young people in politics, and with the prospect of another general election looming, we are calling on the the UK government to act now to upgrade our voting system. Of course, online voting is not a silver bullet but it is a powerful and necessary tool to help increase participation. It should not be ignored.

Young people are the ones who will have to live with the consequences of this vote for generations to come. Let’s do everything we can to enable their full participation in our democracy. If we do not do so we risk leaving a whole generation even further behind.

We look forward to your response.

Areeq Chowdhury, Chief Executive of WebRoots Democracy
Oliver Sidorczcuk, Advocacy Coordinator at Bite the Ballot
Malia Bouattia, President of the National Union of Students
Mete Coban, Chief Executive of MyLifeMySay
Rachael Farrington, Founder of Voting Counts
Alice Memminger, Chief Executive of UpRising

Do you think the UK should introduce an online voting option for elections?  Take a moment to sign and share our e-petition.

The results of a YouGov poll commissioned by WebRoots Democracy and Smartmatic, published today, has found that online voting could have boosted youth voter turnout by 1.1 million in the EU referendum.

WebRoots Democracy is an independent, youth-led, organisation leading the campaign for the introduction of online voting in the United Kingdom.

Bite the Ballot is a party-neutral movement working to empower young people in democracy.

The National Union of Students is a confederation of student unions in the United Kingdom representing 95% of all higher and further education unions.

MyLifeMySay is a youth-led charitable organisation engaging young people in politics.

Voting Counts is a non-profit organisation which works on educating young people about politics with unbiased resources.

UpRising is a UK-wide youth leadership development organisation working with talented young people from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds.

It’s not what we decide on Thursday that’s worrying me. It’s how.

By Nathalie Hulbert.


Young people are being wrongfully underrepresented, and for no good reason.

With the EU referendum fast approaching, it would appear that the younger and older generation are becoming increasingly polarised.

Opinion polls conducted by the BBC reveal a truth that we already knew. A truth that is evident in the disparity between talking to our parents about the EU, and then talking to our peers. Evident in the disparity between campaign billboards in rural, familial dwellings and lively urban areas.  Evident in the disparity between what you are reading in The Mirror, and what you are reading on Buzzfeed.

Younger people want in, older people want out.

Eu referendum opinions

An opinion poll conducted by the BBC in May 2016.

Now I need to stress something important at this point, this is not a post about what we should vote for on Thursday.  I don’t know about you, but I’m bored of seeing the blatant scare-tactics being fed to us from both camps.

This post is about how we are being made to vote on Thursday if we want to have a say at all.  This post is about how the younger generation, who are becoming increasingly synonymous with the Remain campaign, are under threat of being under represented by an increasingly archaic voting structure. A structure, which in my opinion, has no good excuse for being behind the times.

Voting patterns

Every General Election conducted within the 21st Century, has yielded an average of just over 60% voter turnout, a significant decline from the averages in the 80’s and 90’s. More so, the majority of this electorate were over the age of 40.

How many young people actually voted

A study conducted by the Intergenerational Foundation following the 2015 General Election.

The study above found that “Patterns of electoral participation show a strong generational gradient – younger voters  were the least likely to participate and older voters the most likely”.

Taking this into consideration, it’s reasonable to worry about how many young people will vote on the 23rd June.

Stop blaming apathy

Some would say that the younger generation don’t care as much about politics which is why young voter turnout is low. Yet you only have to look as far as your social media feeds to know that this just isn’t true. How many of your friends have taken to social media to air their political views?  Why is there so much digital content on my news feed surrounding the recent Referendum? How did the #notsafenotfair campaign become a trending topic on Twitter?

This generation is educated and vocal about political affairs. Don’t undersell us by saying we don’t care.

Stop blaming laziness

can we vote online

Many members of the older generation are less up to speed with developments in the digital world. Fewer of them use online banking, have smart phones or keep in touch with loved ones on social media.  A report from Age UK has shown that those who are, are more vulnerable to internet security scams. We aren’t impatient with them, we don’t call these people lazy or stupid-we understand it’s a generational gap.

In a similar vein, the current voting system is startlingly unfamiliar to millennials.

Firstly, we need to know to register to vote at our current address about two weeks in advance, which changes more frequently for a generation of younger people who are often renters; be it students, or people starting out in their career.   Those of us that register in time, then need to seek  out our nearest polling station, take time out of our day to travel to a polling station and queue up to vote.

This is a generation where most “life-admin” is conducted online, in under an hour. Therefore it’s facetious to believe that even those who do care will change their behavioural habits, especially if they fall at the first hurdle.

Stop blaming security

So it’s clear that younger people have a political voice, and want to make it heard within a Democracy that accommodates them. The main argument remaining, is that online voting lends scope to corruption, manipulation and basically fear of the unknown.

I’m not saying there isn’t vulnerabilities, but Cyber-Security is a billion pound industry, which has become pretty adept at keeping up to date with the latest trends and threats. Yes, there will always be a risk, but just as I would rather transfer my money online as opposed to physically handing it over to stranger who has been in that job less than 24 hours, I would rather trust an automated voting system more so than one prone to human error and human bias.

In summary, the younger generation are at risk of being under represented on Thursday, on account of a system that isolates them and favours an overwhelmingly one sided sector of the population. What’s worse, proponents of this system make assumptions which scapegoat millennials and security threats

Final thought-let’s take the high road and vote on the 23rd, in hope of UK democracy catching up with the digital age soon.

Nathalie Hulbert is a marketer, blogger, and aspiring writer.

Do you think the UK should introduce an online voting option for elections?  Take a moment to sign and share our e-petition.

This post was originally published on Nathalie’s blog, Blonde Leading the Blonde.


What referendum? How the credibility of British politics pivots on a developing democracy

By Joe Carton.

It’s Thursday, 23rd June 2016. 7:00am. Two weeks into the European Championships and four days before the start of Wimbledon. The alarm on your phone rattles the room. Disbelieving, you bury your head in the pillow. It’s still on the ‘Marimba’ jingle. You need to remember to change that.

One arm emerges from the duvet. Patting hopelessly, trying to find the phone. The more frustrated you get, the louder it seems to become. You grimace. ‘Just make the bloody noise stop’.

Phone recovered. Your thumb, performing its morning routine, punches in the passcode and snoozes the alarm. Through squinted eyes you see the green blur of the WhatsApp icon. Eighty-three unread messages. Clearly you missed something juicy on the group chat last night. You scroll through just to check that you haven’t been the subject of any abuse.

You breathe a sigh of relief. You’re all good.

Anyway, you’re up now. Black coffee. No sugar. You take a slurp, check Twitter then Facebook, and plan through your day ahead.

It’s due to be a fairly standard Thursday. Off work by seven, home by eight, a quick turnaround and then off out for your sister’s birthday dinner. You ask Siri what Euro games will be on TV and then record them on Sky+ via the app.

But hang on. ‘What about?’

Your eyes narrow. ‘Is that today?’

Bemused at your own bewilderment, you double-check the date. You’re right. It’s June 23rd– the day of the EU referendum. Good thing you remembered too. You’re not that interested in politics, but you’ve just turned nineteen and so this vote will shape your future as much as it will shape anyone else’s.

Like everybody else nowadays though, you are busy and spare time is hard to come by. The polling station isn’t near, and unless you are willing to be late for work there is no way you will get there this morning.

You pause. Hang on a second. Actually, there is no way you will get there today at all.

Bit of a disappointment, but surely not the end of the world. Plus, it’d be too inconvenient to change your plans at this late stage. ‘Oh well, it’s not as if my vote will make the difference’, you tell yourself. It’s a convenient and comforting excuse.

The UK votes on EU membership on June 23rd 2016.

The UK votes on EU membership on June 23rd 2016.

Come the EU referendum, huge numbers of young people are likely to express similar sentiment. However the decision over whether the UK remains inside the European Union could depend on the actions of young people. A recent Opinium survey found that in the 18-34 age group, 53% of people said that they back staying in, against 29% who want to leave. But only just over half (52%) of our age group said they were likely to vote.

And they should be forgiven. Democratic politics, the cornerstone of British values, has yet again failed to evolve at a sufficient pace and reflect the developments of the society it is required to assist. Like a complacent sports team, British democracy is still basking in the success of its last major victory (equal voting rights for all), rather than looking to its next challenge.

Out-dated, bureaucratic and inconvenient, it is time for politics to fast-forward to the present and have online voting introduced. In the UK, 38 million people are on Facebook and 15 million are on Twitter. Britain is tech literate, but we have increasingly complex lifestyles. A 24/7 culture has replaced the days of ‘9-5’ working, and therefore the traditional polling station fails to reflect modern day working patterns.

Just as you scroll through Twitter on your phone, post on Facebook from your tablet, or record a show via Sky+, you should be able to vote online. Whilst online voting is not a silver bullet and should be part of a wider package of measures, it is the one component that is vital for driving the modernisation of our democratic landscape. If democracy is to improve, it must become more accessible.

Joe Carton is a Public Affairs Executive at Bellenden and a History graduate from Durham University.

Do you think the UK should introduce an online voting option for elections?  Take a moment to sign and share our e-petition.