No appetite for eVoting
In a survey conducted last year, polling
company ComRes asked MPs if they
supported more convenient ways of voting. Six out of ten said they did. So what
exactly is more ‘convenient' than trotting off down to the local school or
community centre once every four years? Postal voting is one option, but just
over half of the MPs canvassed didn't have confidence in the security of postal
When conversations steer towards ‘what do
you do for a living' I steel myself to explain. After a moments perplexed
silence comes a confident assertion from the questioner that ‘that's about
voting then, isn't it?' The answer to this question should probably be ‘yes'.
But it isn't. eVoting hardly features in the eDemocracy debate in the UK.
Apart from a couple of fairly unconvincing trials there's no real momentum or,
for that matter, demand - it gets one fleeting and non-committal mention deep
in the governance
of Britain green paper.
It's an interesting social phenomenon that
whenever you computerise a well established manual process there is widespread
distrust, dissatisfaction and dismay. The more public and ingrained that
process, the louder the clamour. The tabloids can gorge themselves for months
on this sort of stuff. Media reporting on various US electoral debacles, the Irish experience and the flawed
nature of local government eVoting pilots are hardly going to help improve
the public's perception. Research by Elections New Zealand suggest that one third of voting age New Zealander's would vote online if they could but a quarter definitely would not.
My problem is one of logic. We're happy
enough to wander in off the street, give someone who doesn't know us our name
and address and they are happy to believe us. They let us put a tick on a piece
of paper and put it in a box. We trust that this box makes it to be counted by
fallible human beings, whom for some reason we trust not to make a mistake. We
assume when the result is announced that our vote made some difference - that
it was counted.
On the other side, we don't trust a
secure system that lets us vote only once and only when we can positively
identify ourselves. We don't trust such systems even though we can easily track
our vote to make sure it isn't altered and that it has been counted whilst
maintaining the inviolable secrecy of that vote. Computer systems are open to
abuse and attack but so are manual systems and it's a long stretch of even the
most imaginative neo-Luddite
bow to argue that computers can't count.
It's not just the public who are sceptical
of eVoting, our MPs think like this too. Going back to that ComRes survey, 85% said online voting was
less secure than postal voting. This level of distrust was replicated across
the three main parties and is not dependent on age. Scottish MPs were the most
confident but even then 71% of them don't like the idea of voting online.
Personally, I'm completely convinced about
the merits of eVoting from every perspective except one: I simply do not
believe that there is any compelling argument to do it. Consider the necessary
system changes (procedural, technological and security), citizen education and
social marketing. The argument just doesn't stack up and the issue of
authentication alone is enough to sink the whole project, not for reasons of
technology but for reasons of trust.
It seems clear that there is no appetite
for change. Whilst there are obvious flaws in the current voting system, they
are not great enough to motivate us to engage in drastic transformation. And
there's no compelling argument from the proponents of eVoting to convince us
otherwise. So, since it's only a little bit broken, why bother to fix it?
Director, eDemocracy Programme