Our democracy fell victim to the virus as elections for councillors, mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners were cancelled. Rescheduled and devolved elections in May 2021 face administrative challenges given continued restrictions and low uptake of postal voting. Those eventually elected will serve a shortened three-year term.
The pandemic revealed how outdated our elections have become. An option for casting a ballot online would make voting easier and more resilient to future crises.
Voting should be simple and secure. And while online voting won’t be ready this year, policymakers should seize the opportunity for modernisation.
There is relevant precedent for moving services online, including elections. Parliament temporarily adopted digital voting during the pandemic. And political parties, trade unions and workplaces already conduct ballots online. Our lives moved online through the pandemic – from the weekly shop to Christmas over zoom. But digital exclusion remains a challenge, therefore online voting should become a regular option, alongside postal and in-person voting. The Royal National Institute of Blind People believe online voting enables independent participation.
Security is a concern given national elections are targets for interference. Ballots must be secret, secure and verified. In Estonia, a mobile app enables voters to verify ID using a PIN number akin to a digital signature, with anonymity preserved. More than 40% of votes are cast online.
Modernisation should also consider weekend voting. Voting on a random Thursday between 7am-10pm suits professionals. For groups with a lower propensity to vote, it is harder to balance with work, family and unforeseen circumstances. Thursday voting was intended to reduce proximity to church or pub. Society has changed. And weekends hold an additional benefit of schools not having to close on polling day.
UK democracy relies on a 1950’s voting system. Seven decades on it is time to move online.