Digital Privacy

Changing the way we vote

In the sixth of our series on the challenges facing the new government, Jason Kitcat looks at proposals for changes to the way our elections are run, including dangerous calls for e-voting.

You wouldn’t know it from the media coverage, but electoral reform wasn’t the only election-related matter the LibDem/Conservative negotiations touched on. The agreement documents explicitly address the need to strengthen our election processes by stating that:

The parties agree to reduce electoral fraud by speeding up the implementation of individual voter registration.

The past thirteen years saw our electoral systems put under incredible strain as postal voting become ever more widely available and numerous pilot projects were undertaken. On the other hand, there is no doubt that the creation of the independent Electoral Commission was a very welcome, positive contribution by the previous government.

But the Commission’s repeated calls to sort out the basics of our electoral system seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. Individual voter registration, the long delayed but absolutely vital reform, is absurdly overdue. Only once we move on from the archaic system where (outside of Northern Ireland) the so-called “Head of the Household” is responsible for registering voters under his or her roof can we start to unpick all the other loopholes and problems in the system. Yet a national individual voter register shouldn’t be used as a sneaky replacement for the National Identity Register the coalition have promised to scrap.

My hope is that the coalition government use their explicit commitment to individual voter registration as a catalyst to reviewing and strengthening our entire electoral infrastructure. Electoral administration needs to be given more resources and aim for greater standardisation of data, as well as procedures. We also need to review whether making postal votes so widely available is tenable given their propensity to get lost, delayed and become the subject of electoral fraud investigations.

What we don’t need is the “modernisation agenda” and the concerns over election day problems to take us back to pursuing electronic voting or electronic counting systems. ORG’s position opposing their introduction is very clear, and the Electoral Commission have taken a similarly cautious line. ORG opposes electronic voting and counting because these technologies:


  • make votes less secure hence risking greater fraud;
  • can undermine ballot secrecy;
  • are more prone to error;
  • are vastly expensive;
  • are more difficult to scrutinise than current election processes.


I’m hopeful that we may well avoid going ‘back to the future’ with e-voting given that Conservative MP Jonathan Djanogly has been appointed to be a minster in the Ministry of Justice, the department responsible for electoral administration. Djanogly has spoken at ORG e-voting events and raised concerns over election integrity in Parliament.

Of course the siren call of advisers and e-voting salesmen could prove hard to resist, so I’ll be sure to be keeping a close watch on what emanates from the Ministry of Justice in the coming months.