Electronic voting in the UK
April 28, 2003 6:21 PM   Subscribe

E-voting could counter apathy amongst the young on May 1st. Research published by HEDRA indicates that over half of young people would be more likely to vote if they could do so via the Internet. But is it secure and verifiable? They seem to have covered most of the bases. But the question remains, will voters trust such a system? Unfortunately, the discussion seems to have been prematurely terminated. Warning: pdfs!
posted by cbrody (34 comments total)

 
My own view is that e-voting is potentially a good way to try to involve apathetic constituents in what is usually a very low-turnout affair (UK local government elections), but I am not yet convinced that we can trust the "powers that be" to implement a system that doesn't favour one party over the other.

The sordid state of affairs in the US, where large corporates controlled by Republican-leaning executives have a near-monopoly over electronic voting systems does not inspire confidence. I have somewhat more faith in the UK's electoral commission, which is by design a non-partisan group.
posted by cbrody at 6:40 PM on April 28, 2003


Why, exactly, would encouraging apathetic people to vote be a good thing?
posted by Tubes at 7:29 PM on April 28, 2003


This is basically a good idea. Anything that keeps people from having to drive down to the polling place is (ironically) going to increase turnout. In Oregon, for example, vote-by-mail has done this.

On the other hand, voting in student elections at the U of O is all online, any percentage in double digits is considered a pretty good turnout.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 7:39 PM on April 28, 2003


Tubes, getting people to think about voting is a start. If people only realised the power they really have....well, the world would be a different place.
posted by cbrody at 8:21 PM on April 28, 2003


The question is...would the "powers that be" really benefit from young voters?
posted by iamck at 8:24 PM on April 28, 2003


I think many more people would vote if "I have no confidence in any of these people" was one of the choices.

If you want to read more about various ways we could be voting, try the Center for Voting and Democracy.
posted by LeLiLo at 8:30 PM on April 28, 2003


Why not focus on a more informed constituency, then perhaps the low voter turnouts would take care of themselves.
posted by Hildago at 8:30 PM on April 28, 2003


I agree, Hildago. I think that getting higher voter turnout would only be a hollow success. What we need to do is get people interested in the issues, candidates, process, etc... I personally don't have any suggestions for doing this, though.
posted by crazy finger at 9:16 PM on April 28, 2003


I live in a State where a non-entity came out of no where to win a Senate election over a popular ex-Governor. The fact that the hitherto non-entity had significant ties to the companies that owned the vote-counting machines makes one extremely suspicious. The fact that Nebraska newspapers never said "boo" about the situation makes one extremely depressed.

This, coupled with blatantly partisan SCOTUS election tampering of 2000, keeps me home on election day.
posted by RavinDave at 10:42 PM on April 28, 2003


Simple way to counteract voter apathy:

Put government-paid ads on TV proclaming:

"Your VOTE is your RIGHT TO COMPLAIN"

Put it on a lot during election times.

After the election, put government-paid ads on TV proclaiming:

"We have the registration lists. If you didn't vote, your letters to your senators/president/prime minister/premier are now round-filed. Next time, VOTE."

or,

"Are your friends complaining? Did they VOTE? If you didn't VOTE, STFU."
posted by shepd at 11:46 PM on April 28, 2003


It seems to me that there's a value to having high turnout rates simply to improve representation among demographic groups that tend to have low turnout rates, like, for example, the poor and the near-poor. I doubt somebody like Bush would be president if we had turnout rates similar to most European countries. I also doubt we'd be having wholesale tax giveaways to the extremely wealthy while forcing states to dramatically cut off health benefits to poor children and their parents.

Of course, voting over the internet isn't really going to do the poor much good anyway. But it would be nice if we had leaders that owed their position to the entire society and not just the (probably wealthier) civic-minded.
posted by boltman at 12:10 AM on April 29, 2003


RavinDave, until you mentioned "Nebraska" I thought you were writing from some corrupt third-world nation. I don't follow your argument though. If you seriously believe that election results have been tampered with, demand that the elections are overseen by an independent authority. Maybe a local candidate will take up the cause. Not voting just increases the margin for the illegitimi.

UK local elections are a bit of a joke, as the councils have very little real power, and the parties make no attempt to inform constituents of the issues (at least where I live.) The media do little to change the situation. The attitude seems to be: keep 'em uninformed, blame central government, and let's divvy up the handouts between us.

btw, I always get two voter registration cards, as the property I live in has 2 different addresses. Anyone wanna buy a vote? I might do a 2-for-1 deal on eBay...
posted by cbrody at 12:35 AM on April 29, 2003


Does the internet have to be the answer for everything? I agree with Tubes... anyone too lazy or uninterested to GO vote, probably wouldn't be "helping the cause" by voting anyway.

Yea, I'm sure there would be "a better turnout". I'm sure there will be lots of uninformed, careless, and apathetic people that would be happy to fill in the radio buttons and click away... just so they can say they "voted". But I think we can all agree that voting is more than justchoosing one over the other.

For one, I think voting is an experience... it's a physical moment of civic resposibility. Standing in the little booth with all those decisions in front of you is part of what gives voting a unique and important feel... to me. I feel good having been there and taken the time to make those decisions. While a person's vote is certainly their own business, I think there's a welcomed sense of community that takes place at a busy voting center. "We're all here to vote". All that is lost with online voting. It's importance is somehow made to seem rather insignificant when it becomes no different from, say, checking your email.

Personally, I wish all voting was still a matter of filling out a form... on a piece of paper and sticking it in a box. I like the idea of knowing that my vote actually exists; that someone can hold it in their hand and say, "Here's Witty's vote."
posted by Witty at 1:26 AM on April 29, 2003


So a lot of dead people in Chicago are gonna be getting online?

Will Slashdotters complain about the lack of a Cowboy Neal option?

Do's the AOL webbrowser even support radio boxes?

Will i be subjected to a X-10 ad while i place my vote?

How long will the site be up before its hacked and replaced with a picture of the Goats.cx guy?

Just some stuff to ponder...
posted by Dreamghost at 2:11 AM on April 29, 2003


Does it really matter if it's secure, considering how wonderfully we've all done in other elections (not mentioning Florida).

Personally i like the idea of having making it a legal requirement to vote (with a hefty fine) but adding a 'I don't want to vote for any of the people' option on the ballot slip. Now those are statistics I would be interested in...
posted by twine42 at 2:49 AM on April 29, 2003


anyone too lazy or uninterested to GO vote, probably wouldn't be "helping the cause" by voting anyway.

Apathy isn't necessarily related to lack of interest. Apathy can be induced by lack of real choice. If there was a general election tomorrow there is no-one I would be willing to put my cross next to. I suppose I'd be forced to vote for the lesser of three evils but I can fully understand people not wanting to vote at all.

I can also fully understand that there are whole swathes of society who think that no-one is interested in representing them, that no matter who is in power nothing really changes, and they're probably right. No doubt there many who just take democracy forgranted, but that's not the whole picture.
posted by Summer at 4:13 AM on April 29, 2003


My concern is twofold.

1.) This seems like (yet) another potential for abuse in a system beset with problems already (legion mechanical snafus, possible voting machine scandal, an antiquated electorial system, corrupt & partisan judges, campaign finance excesses, two-party stranglehold).

2.) No one seems to want to correct those problems, leading one to conclude that (beyond campaign-speech lip service) few politicos really want to change anything -- that they are content with the status quo and the advantages they all to often wrest from it. If so, the cynic in me says that encouraging more people to vote has a motive that isn't particularly civic-minded. Swelling the ranks of voters is merely a clumsy attempt to legitimize the current process (much like Saddam's recent 100% election victory was).

In other words, I think voter apathy can be a positive thing; it illustrates and punctuates dissatisfaction that would not be so readily apparent if the voter rolls were artificially inflated with gimmicks like online voting.
posted by RavinDave at 4:57 AM on April 29, 2003


i'm voting for goatse.cx guy. flexibility in government is my watchword.
posted by quonsar at 5:08 AM on April 29, 2003


I don't think online voting is in any way a gimmick, "artificially inflating" voter ranks. I think it has profound implications for the future of democracy, wrt breaking down exisiting barriers to participation in the process. I just worry that if it is seen to be furthering the cause of those in positions of power (as in the Hagel case) it will further alienate those who are already cynical about the whole process.
posted by cbrody at 6:02 AM on April 29, 2003


Possibly also of interest; the Electoral Reform Society.
posted by biffa at 6:12 AM on April 29, 2003


if voting goes online, /. will win.
posted by th3ph17 at 6:51 AM on April 29, 2003


anyone too lazy or uninterested to GO vote, probably wouldn't be "helping the cause" by voting anyway.

Apathy isn't necessarily related to lack of interest. Apathy can be induced by lack of real choice. If there was a general election tomorrow there is no-one I would be willing to put my cross next to. I suppose I'd be forced to vote for the lesser of three evils but I can fully understand people not wanting to vote at all.



But if that is why someone isn't voting, then the availability of internet voting won't change that.

My concern isn't so much that electronic voting is less secure. After all, the old fashioned systems were hardly foolproof when someone wanted to game the system. However, once it goes digital, when somebody does figure out how to cheat it, it will be possible to do it on a larger scale than ever before with fewer people than ever before.

Where before it took a conspiracy to affect local elections, now it might take only one person to affect statewide or national elections.
posted by obfusciatrist at 7:18 AM on April 29, 2003


I can't speak to local British elections, but I have a generalized comment.

I live in a country with a lot of natural and technological resources. Even though most products made with those resources are of a fairly poor quality (by my own standards), I can usually get most of what I want, if I'm willing to play the game 40 hours a week. This set of circumstances tends to make my life a fairly easy one.

There are several things that might make life even easier for me, but it has not been demonstrated that participating in the political life of my local and national communities is one of them. We've bounced between two parties five times since I was born, and while the Republican administrations aren't, in general, very good for the economy, a lot of people don't seem to mind.

Voting online would be easier, but I still wouldn't have the choice of voting for someone with true leadership qualities, someone who could inspire me to get involved.

Apathy is helplessness. I can see that life should be more than an effort to make things easier. Some people have that knack, but it's exhausting for an introvert like me to feel like an outsider all the time.

It may sound sad, but some things make it bearable.
posted by divrsional at 8:14 AM on April 29, 2003


err, make that introvert
posted by divrsional at 8:20 AM on April 29, 2003


But if that is why someone isn't voting, then the availability of internet voting won't change that.

I was going to say something like this myself, but thinking about it, I have to say I'm sure there are people right on that edge, who will go to vote for the lesser of evils if they have the time or the chance that day, and if not, then not. For those people, who probably make up a fair portion of the non-voting electorate, e-voting probably would make a difference. So in this sense, would it be fair to encourage disgruntled or apathetic citizens to cast their "least of evils" vote, or should only those who believe they'll make a difference be deciding these things?

Seems to me that if we were to take this online, we should include a "none of the above" category, and / or clarify the "write-in" option - then people who aren't voting as a sign of protest will actually be counted
posted by mdn at 8:21 AM on April 29, 2003


The "none of the above" or write-in option referred to above doesn't even begin to explore the possibilities of a system based on proportional representation, not that I mean to open that can of worms. But the existing first-past-the-post system is not necessarily forever set in stone. In Europe, I believe the UK is in a minority using this method.

Widening the electorate to the otherwise-apathetic technorati (for want of a better term) could be a step towards questioning those institutions we hold so dear...

In the last general election, tacticalvoter enabled those with an internet connection to trade their votes for a second-preference candidate, and is credited with affecting the results in more than one constituency. My point being, the more "connected" everyone is with the process, the closer we will get to electing a more representative government. I'd like to hope it's not just wishful thinking...
posted by cbrody at 9:19 AM on April 29, 2003


Isn't there a law that says you can't campaign outside a polling place? Do you suppose that would transfer over to the internet, such that if your blogged linked to the online voting site, you couldn't express a political opinion on the same blog?

I'm only 1/3rd joking about this. Is it possible?
posted by Hildago at 9:39 AM on April 29, 2003


"I (David Dill) am organizing opposition to paperless electronic voting machines by technologists, especially computer science researchers. I have written a resolution, for which I would like to recruit endorsements." (via What's New)
posted by jacobsee at 9:46 AM on April 29, 2003


I think voting is . . . a physical moment of civic resposibility. Standing in the little booth with all those decisions in front of you is part of what gives voting a unique and important feel... I think there's a welcomed sense of community that takes place at a busy voting center. "We're all here to vote".

This is certainly true in my small town, where the elderly woman at the rail, as you approach, announces you to the people who check off your name (and she knows most everyone by name). And you're looking around to see who else is there. Plus, the registrars keep bags of candy open on the tables, so my son is always very interested that I go and do my civic duty, while he tags along.

It's 15 minutes a year or every few years; what's the big deal about actually having to be there? Even if (as becomes more and more apparent) an individual vote means little in the scheme of things, making the effort does give you, as Witty says, a nice feeling of responsibility and community.
posted by LeLiLo at 10:31 AM on April 29, 2003


Personally, as someone with somewhat of a background in computer security, the idea of online voting scares the hell out of me. I'm also not exactly a big fan of voting by mail. Just way too easy to commit fraud.

Course, given that I've never had to prove who I am when I go in to vote at the precinct, it's probably easy enough to commit fraud there too. (That's one that's always bothered me. I for damn sure think people ought to be required to show some form of id to vote.)
posted by piper28 at 11:18 AM on April 29, 2003


I just think voting online would lessen the importance factor that the act of voting should have on an individual... simply because it's too easy. With that in mind, I tend to agree with what mdn suggested:

...would it be fair to encourage disgruntled or apathetic citizens to cast their "least of evils" vote, or should only those who believe they'll make a difference be deciding these things?

I mean it's not they aren't encouraged now... they're usually just too lazy to bother. Someone who is apathetic, but does bother to go vote, at least cares enough to make the effort. An apathetic voter with an internet connection doesn't need to care at all, when all one has to do is click on a link and say, "Fuck it, I'm voting for Perot... tee-hee-hee". I'm not so sure I want that.
posted by Witty at 5:20 AM on April 30, 2003


Isn't there a law that says you can't campaign outside a polling place?

Certainly not in the UK. Its actually illegal to canvass too near to a polling station. Most campaigning is still done on peoples' doorsteps.
posted by prentiz at 1:24 AM on May 1, 2003


I mean it's not they aren't encouraged now... they're usually just too lazy to bother.

I dunno about that - elections are on tuesdays that most people do not get off work, so along with all the craziness of your regular life you have to go out of your way to get to the polling place and stand in line, and it's always crowded before work and after work, and you're exhausted, and you can't remember if you especially care or why you should, but you try to go anyway, except you get there and it's been moved to a different location this year (didn't you get the mail?) so you walk the extra three blocks but they can't find your name & you're already late so you figure you'll come back after work but you have to stay late and then all you want is to go home and eat something and veg out watching bad sitcoms or something, except civic duty calls and you remember how you felt at 18 the first time you got to vote, so you pull yourself together and make it to the place and argue with the volunteers who can't seem to be able to figure anything out (it turns out you had your district number right after all, they just mixed up your name) and you vote.

or maybe you don't.

But I don't think it's automatically laziness. A lot of it depends how well organized your community is and how hectic your life is.

Not saying the internet's the answer - making election day a federal holiday would solve a lot of the trouble (or maybe: election day a federal holiday if you vote).
posted by mdn at 6:24 AM on May 1, 2003


I think it's worth remembering as well that we shouldn't be surprised that a lot of people don't vote because from a purely self-interested perspective, voting is irrational. The chances that your vote is going to decide an election are infinitesimal. People vote either because a) they don't really appreciate that their vote is almost certain to be meaningless (sort of like people that play the lottery) and b) they feel that it's their civic responsibility to do so.

Lowering the opportunity costs of voting simply moves it in the direction of being a good bargain for the voter. It never actually will be a good bargain (from the standpoint of influencing who's elected anyway) but the closer you get, the more "rational" it is to vote. Since even uninformed voters are likely to pick candidates that reflect their interests, costless voting would lead toward a purer democracy that isn't skewed toward the preferences of the civic-minded and the slow.
posted by boltman at 11:33 PM on May 1, 2003


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