Voter participation and political engagement make up the lifeblood of our democracies. A general lack of participation can call into question the very legitimacy of our leaders and the decisions they make. Throughout this blog series on voter participation, we’ve looked at lowering the voting age, mandatory voting, as well as voter education and registration as ways to encourage greater participation. In this final post, we look to another means befitting the digital era we live in – online voting in political elections.
The 21st century is well and truly underway. The new millennium has ushered in a multitude of innovative, digital technologies designed to make our lives easier (or at least more entertaining). From Instagram filters to online banking – digital technologies are changing the way we interact with people and the world. It seems only natural that the secure technologies we trust to wire payments to offshore suppliers should be introduced into the voting arena in order to offer people an easy and convenient way to participate in elections.
Digital Technologies in the Political Sphere
Such a development would mark yet another shift towards the use of digital technology in the political sphere. Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have already brought us closer to our representatives than we’ve ever been before. The current US president is certainly no stranger to engaging his Twitter followers at any hour of the day. Or night for that matter. Moreover, Q&A panel shows featuring politicians and other notable public figures often allow home audience participation through social media. In less democratic states, these same digital technologies are used to circumvent oppressive censorship laws and rebel against dictatorial rule.
What is Online Voting?
Online voting (or I-voting) refers to software platforms which allow people to cast their votes in an election online. The best online voting platforms allow people to vote easily on their smartphones, tablets or laptops. These platforms do not require voters to download anything to their devices. Moreover, online voting does not refer to voting machines connected to the internet at polling places. Rather, it refers to those platforms which can be accessed remotely from delegated or personal devices.
Online Voting in Political Elections – The Estonian Experience
There are already a number of case studies involving the use of online voting in political elections. The Baltic state of Estonia was the first country to hold national parliamentary elections online in 2007. Although there hasn’t been a significant overall increase in voter turnout (62% in 2007 compared with 64% in 2015), online voting is fast becoming the voting method of choice amongst existing voters and advance voters, as revealed voting preference statistics.
Percentage of participating voters voting online:
- 2007 – 5.5%
- 2011 – 24.3%
- 2015 – 30.5%
Percentage of advance votes cast online:
- 2007 – 17.6%
- 2011 – 56.4%
- 2015 – 59.6%
It would seem from the Estonian experience that voters value the sheer convenience offered by online voting. Furthermore, the reduced cost of implementing online voting is one major benefit from the perspective of election organizers. A combination of these factors may well explain its success in Estonian parliamentary elections.
Online Voting Reaches all Demographics
Indeed, the BBC has reported Estonia’s deputy head electoral officer, Arne Koitmae, explaining the popularity of online voting in the country. “I-voting has become massive, and statistically there is no such thing as a typical i-voter,” he said. He continued, “all voters, irrespective of gender, income, education, nationality and even computer skills, have the likelihood of becoming an I-voter”. Mr. Koitmae went on to explain how online voting has enabled citizens based abroad to easily participate in national elections. “In 2015, Estonians living in 116 different countries participated in the elections using Internet voting”.
Whilst a widespread uptake of online voting in political elections might be some years off, it is certainly available in other types of elections. Companies, cooperatives, associations, universities and regulatory colleges – just to name a few – are already voting online.
Take the next step towards the digital future by conducting your organization’s next election easily online.