Digital Democracy

As the UK goes to the polls in the General Election, our attention turns once again to the voting system and how tech could bring democracy up-to-date.

Imagine if the concept of democracy was unheard of and you were the person advocating its use.

Allow yourself to consider the rapture you see on the faces surrounding you as you describe the idea of elected representatives holding the seat of power to account, while debating and implementing legislation. A government made up of the people, for the people.

Then, while they’re ready to tear the idea out of your head and set it in action, you describe how the elections would work. On pre-determined dates, the people gather to make their mark using paper and pencil. The votes, gathered in their thousands, will be individually counted overnight, with the winners being the ones with the most votes.

Err… Paper? Pencil?

To any observer, the system in the UK looks very much like it hasn’t been updated since its inception in 1872. Which is entirely because it hasn’t.

It’s anachronistic. It’s possible for things to go wrong, for votes to get miscounted or misplaced and if an error is recognised, the only way to correct it is to start the count again. With a nigh-on impossible chance of understanding where it went wrong in the first place.

So, where are the high-tech alternatives? 

There are a number of countries throughout the world using e-voting, with Estonia being the shining example. They’ve had e-voting in general elections since 2005 and their citizens are able to vote on election day from over 100 different countries around the world.

Estonians all have a microchipped ID card that links with a keypad to allow an encrypted ID confirmation to be made over the internet. An email is then sent back to the voter as confirmation.

Here in the UK, plans to introduce ID cards were scrapped in 2010 by the coalition government. Perhaps a knee-jerk reaction to reminiscences of 1940s war-time films “Let me zee yur paperz….”?

Earlier this year a former head of MI5 warned against switching to e-voting due to the risks of cyber attacks and hacking, claiming that paper and pencil were more secure.

However, with voter numbers dwindling, particularly amongst the younger demographic, perhaps it’s time to look again at ID cards or even the end-to-end encryption technologies?

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