What did you think of the US election? I don’t mean the candidates and the outcome. What did you think of the election process? Should it be possible for national elections of this type to be done online? Last week the IET published a paper on internet voting in the UK, led by our good friend at the University of Surrey, Professor Steve Schneider. It’s well worth a read. As the paper explains, internet voting for statutory political elections is a uniquely challenging problem. Firstly voting systems have exacting requirements and secondly, the stakes are high with the threat of state level interference.
Well, it’s General Election day today in the UK so I’ll be off down to the local polling station to cast my vote later on. This may be the action of a dying breed. Something like a sixth of the votes cast at this election will be postal votes and there are calls to allow people to vote at home using their PCs or smartphones just like they do for “Britain’s Got The X-Factor On Ice” or whatever it is that the general public watch on their televisions now. I’m not a fan of this kind of electronic voting.
A hacked election, or worse still, an election in which online voters buy and sell votes, would be a disaster for democratic legitimacy.
Well, a hacked election would be a problem, or a least an election that is hacked more than it is through postal votes right now. But buying and selling? I’m not so sure. I don’t see the ethical difference between “vote for us and we’ll give you free childcare” or “vote for us and we’ll ring-fence your pension” or “vote for us and we’ll push up your house price” and “vote for us and we’ll give you £10”. But that’s not my point. My point is that equating electronic voting with a lazy alternative to the polling booth is the wrong way to look it at.
You argue that allowing online voting in Britain would increase the number of youngsters who participate in elections (“Apathetic fallacy”, April 18th). But where is the proof? Actually, the evidence is that internet voting does not increase voter participation.
Frankly, if someone can’t be bothered to get off the couch and go round the corner to vote, I’m not sure I should care what they think about the way that the country is going to be governed for the next five years. That’s not what electronic voting should be about. Electronic voting should be about process re-design, modernisation and re-implementing democracy for the post-industrial age.
Is there a way to use technology to improve democracy — not only by changing the medium but by rethinking the whole interface? Well, there might be. And it is a brand new idea — in humans, at any rate.
This is where electronic voting can help. Not to deliver voting by text message or WhatsApp but to deliver a new and better voting system. Now, I’m not qualified to say what that system should be, although I can see that there are many interesting alternatives to our “one man, one vote (if he can be arsed)” system.
Under Quadratic Voting (QV), by contrast, individuals have a vote budget that they can spread around different issues that matter to them in proportion to the value those issues hold for them.
In an industrial age, a simple cross on a ballot paper made sense. Today, however, it should be possible to implement more sophisticated democratic systems to deliver a more accurate mandate but with simple user interfaces for everyone to use. QV on paper while standing in a polling booth might be daunting, but if you can download the smartphone app and then spend as long as you like messing around allocating your vote budget before taking the phone down to the polling booth to deliver your secure and cryptographically-protected votes via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) from your Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) is a different matter. Just as I always thought about eCash in the only days, Bitcoin might be more useful for voting than for paying.
Well, technology can make it easier to vote. But if there’s an app for that, we should still make people vote in public.
And to finish, one of those songs you saw on “Top of the Pops” as a kid that blew you away. I still have this album on my iPhone and I still listen to it around once every month. The best song about democracy EVAH.
Happy election day everyone.
There are renewed calls for online voting at a near-future general election in the UK, but as we discussed at the UnConference this year. Even if we knew what problem this is supposed to fix, I suspect it would still be the wrong answer.