The Speaker of the House, John Bercow, is leading the way on bringing Parliament and British democracy into the digital age; but he will need to drag his colleagues in the Commons kicking and screaming all the way to the e-ballot box.
Mr Bercow, heading a commission into the future of digital democracy, spelled out his thoughts on the role technology can play in British democracy during a speech to Policy Exchange last week. In a wide-ranging speech in which he suggested that Parliament itself should adopt technology (online scrutiny of Bills, electronic voting in the House of Commons etc.) in order to lead the way on digital democracy, he floated the idea of introducing electronic voting at elections.
“In an era in which many people... treat their mobile phone or tablet as an extension of themselves... would it really be an earth-shattering change for voters to vote electronically in a polling station? Or at home, as they do so now with a postal vote?”
However, new ComRes polling of MPs suggests the Speaker is ahead of his colleagues on this issue. Two thirds (66%) of MPs believe that online voting, for the foreseeable future, “cannot be trusted as it will not be safe from fraud.” Tory MPs appear to be Conservative by name and conservative by nature, with twice as many Tory as Labour MPs not trusting online voting.
While Mr Bercow was careful to state that he would not stake the success of electronic voting simply on increasing turnout, MPs are themselves sceptical about the benefit of online voting in improving the democratic process. Only a third (33%) of MPs agree that “online voting would broaden participation significantly, so enhancing the democratic process.” Again it is Conservative MPs who are particularly opposed to the idea, 80% of whom disagree that it would broaden participation significantly while six in ten (58%) Labour MPs think it would.
Questions around fraud and security are likely to persist, but as the events in Tower Hamlets in last month’s elections show, the current system is already flawed. Can online or electronic voting be any worse? If we can buy and sell shares, do our personal and business banking, and submit our tax returns online, why the resistance to political engagement online?
Likewise if voters can now choose potential husbands and wives by using an app on their phone, should it not be just as easy to choose their MP? Our elected representatives clearly still need some convincing. The Speaker’s Commission is not due to report back until January 2015 and Mr Bercow is aware there are unlikely to be any quick fixes, but he is clearly passionate about digital democracy, he will just have to try and enthuse his own colleagues a little more in order to make progress.
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