The term “online voting” is often confused with “electronic voting”. Electronic voting is namely the use of voting machines whereas online voting is using the internet at your convenience to vote. Online voting needs to break away from under the shadow of voting machines and highlight its potential. Indeed, online and electronic voting have nothing to do with one another.

Voting machines are exactly that – machines set up to help with the voting process. They are installed in voting booths and voters place their ballots with the press of a button. The votes are stored on a hard drive or memory card. Some machines provide a paper record in case of a recount, while others consolidate their data at a central management location.

An obvious upgrade, so why aren’t they a common sight in the UK and Germany?

Voting computers are, on the one hand, perhaps an inevitable upgrade to the paper ballot system. Results don’t have to be counted by hand; votes are counted faster and more accurately, and the result is definite. The voting machines can be re-used, thereby reducing long-term election costs significantly.

In fact, the US invested billions into modernizing their voting system in 2002 with the Help America Vote Act. After the disastrous ‘hanging chad’ saga in the 2000 presidential election, both the public and politicians were clamouring for reform.  Voting machines have become a common sight in the US but have failed to attract widespread support in either the UK or Germany.

Indeed, poor performance in the US and a seeming reluctance to update election methods have stifled the introduction of general electronic voting methods. While both the UK and Germany have trialled voting machines, neither have attempted to implement policies. The trial in Germany (2005) saw 1-2 million votes recorded with voting machines, yet security issues caused public trust to plummet. The German Federal Constitutional Court declared them to be unconstitutional in 2009. Great Britain, on the other hand, has had trials but did not adopt voting machines but instead are looking into implementing a digital democracy program.

You can read more about voting machines and their history here.

Voting machines are not “online”

Online voting should not be compared to voting machines as they are entirely separate methods of voting. Voting machines are an attempt at modernizing elections while trying to keep firmly within the voting traditions developed over centuries. Online voting, on the other hand, is an attempt at modernizing the whole voting system.

E-Voting allows voters to cast their ballots from any device that can be connected to the internet. E-Voting eliminates the need to trudge down to the polling station on a wet and windy afternoon. Voters can stay at home, remain in their sickbeds, etc. and still cast their votes in a timely fashion. Our society has become more international, diverse and crucially mobile. Online elections represent the future of voting helping to bring democracy a little closer to home in the 21st century. Secure authentication methods allow entry into the online polling station and secure encryption methods ensure the secrecy of the ballot. Data is then processed on several secured servers to produce the results.

More media coverage, education and increased public interest will propel online voting into the forefront of 21st-century politics. Sometime soon we will see it become accepted in the same way as a cross on a paper ballot slip.