Polling Problems Could Lead To e-Voting

Pressure is building to introduce electronic voting in the UK, after some citizens were unable to take part in yesterday’s General Election

Problems at polling stations, which left many people unable to cast their vote in the UK general election, are likely to prompt renewed calls for e-voting, according to analyst group Ovum.

Last night, hundreds of voters were turned away from polling stations, and police were called in to deal with queues, after the doors of polling booths closed at 10pm BST. Higher than expected turnouts across the country meant that many stations were understaffed and, in Liverpool, even ran out of ballot papers.

Nineteenth century process for 21st century population

Queues of frustrated voters were left fuming, some claiming that they had been disenfranchised. According to BBC News, the main parties all expressed concerns, and the Electoral Commission announced a “thorough review” of the voting system.

“What we currently have is a nineteenth century process for twenty-first century population,” said Mike Davis, senior analyst at Ovum. “A 24-hour society requires 24-hour voting to meet the aspirations of the electorate who now have an expectation of always on and always available.”

He went on to explain that the so-called “Generation Y” now expects all public information and services to be available online. “It is a fact that in the UK in 2012, every young person leaving school will have had broadband access in their classroom for their whole school life,” he added. “The society that an elected parliament represents, will not tolerate pencil and paper and constrained hours.”

The option of e-voting has been mooted for some time. Dharmesh Mistry, CTO of e-commerce solutions provider edge IPK, claims to have piloted the world’s first multi-channel online voting system over ten years ago, but says one reason for the lack of adoption is cultural – people actually enjoy the ritual of physically attending the polling station.

Security risks?

A more serious concern for many is the security of e-voting. “From a security perspective an online voting platform is a huge, high-profile target for attack,” said Mistry.  However, he went on to say that, provided the right security measures are used, people should not be concerned about the election becoming compromised.

Ovum’s Davis also points out that “many of us will trust our credit card details to the likes of eBay and Apple,” so there is no reason for e-voting technology to pose any greater risk.

So far, there has not been time for the Electoral Commission to fully discuss the future of voting practices, but Commission chair Jenny Watson reassured voters that the situation would be looked at. “It may be that the law needs to change,” she said.

Gordon Brown is still Prime Minister at the time of writing, but both he and David Cameron are offering moves towards reform of the voting system in their overtures to the Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, who holds the balance of power.

Brown was said to be “very concerned” about the reports that some people were unable to cast their votes, while Clegg said he shared the “bitter dismay” of those who were unable to vote. “That should never, ever happen again in our democracy,” Clegg told the BBC.