Dear Mr Chowdhury,
Thank you for your email to the Prime Minister of 27 January about online voting. I am replying as the Minister for Constitutional Reform.
At present, we have a full programme of constitutional reforms and do not have any plans to introduce electronic voting for statutory elections, either using electronic voting in polling booths or remotely via the internet. That said, and as your report indicates, I recognise that a lot of work is being done in this area and that technology keeps improving. This is something I want to keep under close review on the assumption that it may be an obvious development at some point in the future.
On your wider point about turnout and engagement. I believe that participation in democracy is the foundation of a vibrant, inclusive society. I want everyone who is eligible to register to vote to do so, and we have done considerable work to ensure that as many as possible of those eligible have their say at the ballot box. In order for people to exercise their right to vote we first need to make sure they are on the electoral register. We’ve made it quicker and easier than ever before to do so, by introducing Individual Electoral Registration and making it possible for individuals to register online to vote. On top of this we have also invested in activities aimed at maximising registration.
I note the figures you quote in your letter and agree that Government, politicians, political parties, community organisations and others in society must continue to play a role in getting people to engage with and contribute to our democracy. That said, I think that it is important to remember that there are a number of factors which impact on turnout at any given election and that the system itself is only one part of this. The experience in Scotland at the 2014 referendum I think reflects the fact that electors, including young people, will vote using the existing provisions when they are engaged with the issues at hand. It is also worth noting that the e-Voting pilots which took place in the UK at local elections between 2000 and 2007, and which included pilots of online voting, resulted in very small changes to overall turnout. While I appreciate that we have moved on somewhat since 2007, I still think that this is an important point.
I do, of course, agree with you that we live in an increasingly digital world and you are right to point out that an increasing number of people conduct other business, such as banking, online. That said, online voting is unique in that any instance of fraud cannot be ‘undone’. Banks can offer online banking services as they are able to balance the potential savings they can make against their ability to compensate any losses following an instance of fraud. This is not the case with a vote!
I should probably – respectfully – also disagree with your claim that an online voting option could reduce the cost of elections. Traditional means of voting, such as polling stations and postal voting, are still popular with many people and, as a result, any online voting option would have to be introduced as an extra voting channel at additional cost, which would inevitably demand careful consideration in the current financial climate.
That said, I’d like to thank you for your contribution to this important issue. We need to engage more people in our democracy and, overall, we agree that online voting may be an obvious development for an increasingly digital future. I am sure that change will come, and we need to be ready for it, even if it doesn’t happen immediately!
Thank you again for your continued work and I hope this reply is helpful!
John Penrose MP