2019’s general election in the UK was instrumental in determining progress on countless issues – Brexit, climate change, the NHS, immigration, and many more. For such an important political process, it is critical that all eligible voters are given the opportunity to make their viewpoint count – a right that is not always facilitated in the current voting system.
There are currently three ways to vote in UK elections – in person, by postal vote, or by proxy. In this digital era, there should be a fourth option – online voting, underpinned by a robust digital identity scheme.
Obstacles to voting in person
These are fairly obvious – suppose a UK resident is on holiday at the time of the election, ill, or has a last-minute crisis to see to. Voter numbers decrease for something as common as bad weather.
Then you also have eligible voters who live abroad or have disabilities that prevent them from leaving the house.
Obstacles to postal votes
This is a popular option for voters who live abroad. However, UK citizens may live as far away as New Zealand, for example, and postal voting packs can be sent out as little as 7-10 days before polling day. Without great expense – and this is not covered by government – this is often far from enough time for the voting back to be posted abroad, completed and sent back again.
On Twitter, #GE19 was teeming with people who had still not received their postal ballot close to 2019’s election date or had received the incorrect voting pack with no time for a replacement (e.g. one envelope missing or incorrect – such as these voters in France).
Obstacles to voting by proxy
If voting in person is not an option, and a postal vote is unreliable, the current solution is to vote by proxy. However, asking a trusted person to vote on your behalf is not an option for everyone and relinquishes control of a very important task.
Online voting is the answer
Voting online is not currently an option for UK election voters, but other countries have seen success with the system.
For example, Estonia has given voters the online option since 2005, and since 2007 for parliamentary elections, with 44% of Estonians currently using i-Voting.
e-Estonia describes the process as – “During a designated pre-voting period, the voter logs onto the system using an ID-card or Mobile-ID, and casts a ballot. The voter’s identity is removed from the ballot before it reaches the National Electoral Commission for counting, thereby ensuring anonymity… In the case of i-Voting, the cumulative time saved in the last Estonian elections was 11,000 working days. “
While some in the UK may question the security of online voting, the best identity infrastructure would assess and manage any associated risks. Besides, at time of writing, if you live in England, Wales or Scotland, you don’t need to bring any identification to vote. So the current system is arguably not secure, and digitalising the process has the potential to improve that.
Digital identity as the key to online voting
Strong, government-accepted level IDs would enable secure, seamless online voting to take place.
While the government is advancing plans for such digital identity solutions in the UK, we are falling behind other countries in this regard. This has a knock-on effect not just on elections, but on other public services that could benefit from digitalisation too.