The Institute of Digital Democracy, more commonly known as WebRoots Democracy, is a volunteer-led think tank focused on the intersection of technology and democratic participation. In short, the organisation feels it is high time that the democratic process is available through digital platforms and, crucially, that voters should be able to cast their vote online during elections.
We caught up with Areeq Chowdhury, chief executive of WebRoots Democracy to find out how it’s going…
How long has WebRoots Democracy been around and what achievements has it made so far?
WebRoots Democracy is almost three years old, and was founded in May 2014. It’s main achievements so far have been to lead the campaign for online voting in the UK, establish a cross-party group of 9 MPs to be champions of digital democracy, and to influence the debate around e-balloting for trade unions.
Every opinion poll I’ve seen on the issue has shown that the majority of the British public are in favour of introducing an online voting option, and that it would be the most popular method of voting if introduced.
What are some of the technical challenges to overcome?
With regards to online voting, the technology is out there already to successfully implement it as an option in elections. Countries which use it currently include Australia, Estonia, and Switzerland. Additionally, every major political party in the UK uses online voting for their own internal elections. Last year, an estimated 90% of voters chose to vote online instead of by paper in the Labour leadership election.
However, some of the main challenges are related to voter verification, maintaining audit trails, and to ensure safeguards against cyber-attacks.
Would this lead to election fraud? And how would we alleviate people’s concerns around this?
There’s no evidence that online voting would be more susceptible to election fraud than the current methods of voting. However, there is a general fear about online services due to a number of high profile cases of successful cyber attacks on various companies. To alleviate fears, we would need to educate voters and politicians on how the online voting system will work in practice and to ensure that the process is made as transparent as possible. Additionally, voters should have the option to verify that their vote was cast correctly.
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What is the current state of political will around voting online?
There are pockets of political will around this issue across parties, but there is a lot of work to be done to get this into the next Conservative Party manifesto. I am confident that the Labour Party are supportive of this reform. WebRoots Democracy’s group of Political Ambassadors includes MPs from the Conservatives, Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats, Greens, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, UUP, and the now independent MP, Douglas Carswell.
Do the public want this? Is the electorate equipped for it?
Every opinion poll I’ve seen on the issue, and there have been many, has shown that the majority of the British public are in favour of introducing an online voting option, and that it would be the most popular method of voting if introduced.
There will need to be an educational campaign around this reform, and studies show that it’s really in the second or third online voting election that the benefits fully kick in.
What key things can advocates of digital democracy do to help further the cause?
They can get involved with WebRoots Democracy and support our work! Aside from that, a very easy way to get your MP to pay attention to this issue is to send them an email asking them to support such a reform.
You can write to your local MP using a handy app called WriteToThem created by the good folk at MySociety.