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Electronic voting would boost turnout and save money, IET claims

Image credit: Polling station

As the UK goes to the polls today, technology experts are calling for the country to join the likes of Switzerland, Estonia and the United States in introducing some form of electronic voting.

Brazil, India and some states in the US all offer electronic voting, while other countries that have in the past experimented with allowing electors to cast their ballots electronically include Germany and the Netherlands - although in both these latter cases the efforts to roll out voting machines stalled following concerns that they were vulnerable to hacking.

Now Professor Will Stewart, the IET’s vice president, has resurrected the idea that whoever forms the UK’s next government should ensure that for future general elections voters can put their cross on the ballot paper with the same ease that they vote in reality TV contests like Britain’s Got Talent – i.e. remotely, via a smartphone, tablet or laptop computer.

Supporters of such a move say it could help younger voters, sometimes described as ‘digital natives’, to participate more easily in democracy. Critics raise the prospect of large-scale, strategically directed voter fraud. The expense entailed in an IT project of this type is also an issue of concern for some, while other sceptics claim that the national ritual of physically turning out at a polling station on election day helps focus the mind on the civic task at hand.

The system of putting a cross in a box on the ballot paper, in pen or pencil inside a polling station, before folding it and placing it in a ballot box, has been in use in the UK since 1872, although since 2000 it has also been possible to vote by post.

Prof Stewart said: “If it’s possible to cast your vote on TV shows like Britain’s Got Talent using your smartphone or the internet, people will rightly ask why they can’t do the same for the general election.

“The technology already exists to make this happen – the main challenge is security, which of course it’s crucial we get right. This is an important vote concerning the future of the UK and not a television programme.

“Security issues include ensuring the integrity of knowing the person actually voting is the person eligible to vote, which is likely to involve greater reliance on biometrics. Recent hacking incidents also highlight the importance of ensuring confidentiality. So the Government will need to offer the public reassurance of the security of the technology.

“The technology must also provide an audit trail in the need for a recount and all this information would have to be kept secure to ensure personal details remain anonymous.

“It’s unlikely that electronic voting will completely take over from a paper-based system immediately, as some voters, particularly older people, may be unwilling or unable to use technology to cast their votes.

“Ultimately, we’re living in the digital revolution and our voting system must keep pace with the way we use technology in our everyday lives. Technology has the potential to transform voting and make politics more accessible, particularly to younger voters, thereby increasing turnout and making the result more reflective of the overall population.”

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