Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Online Voting Is Probably the Future

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 28th August, 2015

online votingThis morning I voted for the Liberal Democrats’ London Assembly list candidates electronically, a process that took less than five minutes in toto. That’s partly because I know all but one of the candidates personally and had given the matter some consideration once I knew who was on the shortlist. But the main reason it was so speedy was because the online voting system, which one accessed via a link sent in an email (which was security coded) was totally straightforward, easy to understand and to operate. Although I used to rather enjoy filling in the different coloured ballot papers for internal party elections it was a much more cumbersome process and costly for the party. If next month’s Bournemouth conference approves the recommendation that the LibDems should move to One Man One Vote (OMOV) for all relevant committees, rather than using a much smaller electorate made up of conference reps chosen by their local parties,  as well as for candidate selections. then online voting is going to have to be a must. Otherwise the postage alone would be astronomical. Some provision would need to be made for the minority of members who do not have access to a computer or who are Internet-averse, but I suspect even some current diehards will change their minds when they discover just how quick and simple it is.

government identity verificationSimilarly, the possibility of online voting in mainstream elections, for councils, MPs, etc, should be examined more thoroughly with a view to making this an option; after all, there already is an option for postal voting, rather than having physically to go to the polling station on election day. Some other EU countries — most notably Estonia, which promotes itself as an e-demoracy — have made big advances in this field and our own government has devised ways of verifying people’s online identity, even though we Brits do not have identity cards as such. So basically I do believe that online voting will become the predominant model here in the future.

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One Response to “Online Voting Is Probably the Future”

  1. Alex Macfie said

    Online voting for mainstream elections is an AWFUL idea. The big, insoluble problem with it is that there is no way of verifying the result without violating the secret ballot. With traditional pencil&paper voting, you cast your vote in a secure environment (the polling booth), and it goes into a secure box. The boxes are emptied at a counting location and the votes counted before people’s eyes. Collectively the votes can be verified. But no individual vote can be traced to the person who cast it. And, most importantly, you don’t need to be a technical expert to understand what is happening throughout the process. With electronic voting this is just not possible. And I don’t mean because the technology is not available for it: it is a LOGICAL dilemma. Sometimes you hear people say “If you can bank online, then why shouldn’t you be able to vote online?” But the comprehensive audit trails that make online banking secure and valid are not possible in an election that uses the secret ballot. Banking isn’t “secret”.
    Essentially, there is no way for a non-expert in the electronic voting system to determine whether there is any relationship at all between the votes cast and the result (for all you know, the computer could just have made them up). However, the experts who can do this, will also be easily able to link votes to the people who cast them. This is a very dangerous situation, especially as the electronic voting system would be run by a private company. I tend to think that the less that private companies are involved in running elections, the better. Online voting puts whichever company wins the contract in a position where it can directly affect election results.

    I write this as an IT person. This is nothing to do with being a luddite or internet-averse. Actually the level of support for online voting tends to be inversely proportional to level of understanding of how such systems would work. People who make warning noises about it tend to be people who work with and understand IT systems, while people who make remarks about how old-fashoined it is to make a mark with a stubby pencil tend to be technical ignoramuses.

    While online voting may be being used in Estonia, it has been declared unlawful in the Netherlands and Germany, for the sort of reasons I outline above. Ireland tried and abandoned it a few years ago; so did the UK.

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