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Well, technology can make it easier to vote. But if there’s an app for that, we should still make people vote in public.

In many developed economies, and the UK is typical in this respect, there is great concern about the low turnout in national elections. Now, I am no expert on the topic, but I think it is reasonable to see that voters are becoming disenchanted with democracy. This may, I suppose, be a kind of societal sulk as democracy grows up (it is, after all, a relatively new way of organising human affairs for the great majority of people around the world). The electorate has gone up to its bedroom and started listening to music instead of studying.

If politics is about giving voters what they want, you don’t need experts and evidence, but just pollsters and market researchers.

[From Stumbling and Mumbling: Performativity in policy]

This is true, even if it is a counsel of despair. I’d prefer to get people to vote. Now, one line of thought (and I’ve touched on this before) is that society should make voting easier for people. The argument goes that if people can’t be bothered to go round to a polling station (generally a local school in the English system) then perhaps we should find alternatives for them. After all, they vote in droves for drivel like “Britain’s Strictly Got the X-Factor up the Jungle” and such like.

A new study published in Human Factors examines how smartphone-based voting systems can be incorporated into the current large-scale election process.

[From Smartphone-based voting technology may lead to fewer user errors | e! Science News]

I was very pleased to see this, because it is exactly what I wrote about before when I commented on the keynote talk I gave last year at the at the Fourth International Conference on e-Voting and Identity (sponsored by Consult Hyperion and IBM UK), although my proposal wasn’t quite the same because I don’t think letting people vote at home is a good idea. How do you get around coercion and other kinds for fraud that would undermine democracy? So, I proposed letting people use some sort of voting app if they wanted to (perhaps the app could give them access to certain basic statistics such as the the amount we spend on interest on the national debt compared to the amount we spend on defence or the projected share of the national income that will be spent on pensions a decade from now, that sort of thing) but they still have to turn up in person (or be visited in person for people in, say, hospitals or care homes).

I show up with my phone and claim that I am entitled to vote: my phone presents a meaningless but unique number, this is entered manually or automatically into the polling clerk’s phone which flashes up my picture if I am entitled to vote or a red cross if I am not.

[From Electronic voting, electronic identity, electronic entitlement]

This would not deal with the problem of people being too lazy to go and vote, but then I suppose if they are too lazy to go and vote then they get what’s coming to them. If we reduce voting to people “liking” political parties on Facebook then we are in a dangerous place. Voting needs to take place in public. Having said that, we do need to make an effort to get young people into the habit of voting.

Electoral Commission calls for urgent reforms to engage younger voters who are turning out in declining numbers

[From UK should consider e-voting, elections watchdog urges | Politics | The Guardian]

Now, I certainly would not want to add any comment to this blog that might be construed as political, as that is not its purpose, but personally I’m not sure we want people voting when they are too young (under 21, say) because they don’t know what they are talking about. In any case, I think it highly unlikely that a properly-architected electronic voting system would make much difference to whether young people vote or not.

Don’t you wish voting were “more fun and social,” in the parlance of social startups? Now, with a new collaboration between CNN and Facebook, it will be.

[From Facebook, CNN, and the Rise of Social Voting – Technology Review]

We live in a Venmo world now, so if the under-30s want to vote using an app that tells their friends that they voted, or perhaps even how they voted, or perhaps allows them to add a funny picture or an acute comment, well so be it. But make it secure, and make them go down to the polling station to use it.


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