Conservative MP for Norwich North, Chloe Smith, has chaired the launch of a report calling for e-voting to be introduced by the 2020 general election.
The report, by the pressure group WebRoots Democracy, says that online voting could now be made sufficiently secure and would therefore serve as a good way of encouraging young people to participate in politics.
The report has been released amongst a worrying downward trend in electoral turnout. The voter turnout for the May 2015 election was 66.1% which, despite being the highest figure since the Labour landslide of 1997, remains part of the overall downward slope of UK electoral turnout figures. The number is even lower for the 18-24 year old age group, amongst whom over half don’t bother voting. The UK came number 76 in 2015 in the world rankings of voter turnout – the highest was Australia who impose compulsory voting.
Chloe Smith, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Democratic Participation’, said it is “almost immoral by now to fail to consider online voting”, and that “it is a sizeable project and we should start it”.
The report has gained the support of high ranking politicians, including the Speaker of the House, John Bercow, who said: “I look forward to the contribution to the discussion the release of the WebRoots Democracy report has, and the debate that will follow”.
However, there are also many opponents of the proposal, in particular those concerned with reliability and security issues. Norway began trialling an internet based voting systems a few years ago, only to abandon it in June 2014 amid security concerns; in addition, both France and Finland have also experienced failed attempts.
As one of the youngest MPs in the House of Commons, Chloe Smith claims to speak for young people, stating: “this is too obvious an area for reform. My generation is politically interested, but turned off by traditional politics. That means that today’s politicians have to engage today’s young people once again in the nuts and bolts of democracy”.
The calls for online voting came just ahead of the announcement that up to 800,000 people have disappeared from the electoral register, around 1.8% of total voters, due to a transition to Individual Electoral Registration. Students in university cities are at the highest risk of being disenfranchised by this change.
Megan Dunn, National Union of Students President, described this change as “shocking but unsurprising news” and stated that: “NUS is calling on students to register now”.