Local Government: Could online voting boost turnout and reignite interest in politics?
The local government elections suffered from a poor turn-out, with voters turning their backs on the democratic process. Senior Labour MSP John Park believes it is important to now look at the different voting options available at all levels of government.
Park has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament recommending the examination of methods such as telephone voting, mobile phone voting and online voting. His motion also welcomes calls to consider a weekend polling day and encourages elected representatives and political parties to continue to seek to fi nd new ways to engage with and motivate the electorate.
So far, Park has gained cross-party support for his plans and he hopes that if it gains enough backing, it might be possible to take it forward as a parliamentary bill.
Speaking to Connect, he said: “Over a period of time I have been concerned about the turn-out at elections. The local government was the most recent but the Scottish Parliament elections last year weren’t great, the trajectory is going downwards.
“What I wanted to do was get a motion out there in the broadest sense, one that could get cross-party support. E-voting is one issue and it reflects how a lot of people carry out their lives these days. It would provide an opportunity for people to use what is probably their main source of information, to stand alongside other forms of voting.
“Two of the big factors is when we hold elections and where we hold them. That is why I suggested we consider weekend voting and I think that would give people a longer time to go and vote, it would mean there was at least a couple of days and it wouldn’t have the impact on some of our schools in particular.
“There has a been a decent move over the past couple of years to use not just schools but other public buildings but I would say you should look at where people tend to be at any particular time. The first step is trying to work out what level of party interest there is across Parliament and then I would look at the next steps in taking it forward.”
The concept of e-voting is not a new idea. Discussions are ongoing both in the UK and internationally, looking at the pros and cons of using the internet and other technology to boost voter numbers and make the whole process fi t more snugly into people’s lives. The official turnout figure for May’s council elections is still to be calculated but it is estimated that it will be around 40 per cent, well below the 50 per cent at last years’ Scottish Parliament election.
Today the internet plays a huge role in our lives. We trust our banks to look after our money online and e-voting appears to be a logical next step. There is also an argument that e-voting would appeal, and reach out, to younger voters, who are more technologically minded and less politically active than older citizens. However, serious security concerns must be overcome before any real consideration can be given to internet voting.
In 2010, an internet voting trial in Washington DC revealed just what can happen if the system is not secure. It took computer scientists from the University of Michigan, tasked with testing the system, 36 hours to hack into the programme and if it was real, they would have been able to rig elections and view secret voting data.
In March this year, as the US presidential election draws near, a top cyber security offi cial at the US Department of Homeland Security warned of the dangers of internet voting. Bruce McConnell told a group of election officials, academics and advocacy groups that it is “premature to deploy internet voting in real elections at this time”. He believes that voting systems are vulnerable and connecting them to the internet increases that vulnerability.
However, in May, Scytl, a company specialising in election software solutions announced the successful implementation of its online voting encryption technology for use on Google Android and Apple iOS smartphones and tablet computers. By encrypting the ballot on the voter’s device before it is cast, Scytl said it can now guarantee end-to-end security – from the voter to the fi nal tally – not only for computer-based online voting but also for mobile voting.
Encrypting the ballot on the voter’s device before it is transmitted to the digital ballot box server to be stored is one of the critical security features offered by Scytl’s online voting systems. The company added that this prevents anyone, including system administrators, from violating voter privacy or jeopardizing the election results.
In Scotland, phone and online voting options were available for the Union Terrace Gardens referendum in Aberdeen. Held earlier this year, 86,825 votes were cast and of those, 28,792 used the online system with 9154 voting by telephone.
The referendum was dogged by allegations of voting fraud, however, an independent counting offi cer insisted the system, provided by Democracy Counts Ltd, was secure. Following the vote, the then council leader, SNP councillor Callum McCaig, said he believed a secure electronic system was the way forward for local and national elections.