60 Ideas for Europe

Continual declines in voter turnout; increased cynicism towards politics; even lower participation in the Euro-elections.
In contrast, more and more people – particularly younger people but the elderly too – are getting involved in online communities and interest groups, and embracing technologies to overcome hurdles, disabilities, fears, absence from home or simply expressing a preference.
We should help citizens reconnect with politics, offering them concretely a means to participate in a way that follows the trend in other parts of their lives. Many simply do not have the time or opportunity to vote at their local voting station.
I propose that the Member States – with support from the Commission – should organise to allow citizens the choice of voting via the Internet at the 2009 elections. They have already budgeted for it! What a signal it would give if they were willing to participate in a joint initiative to make this possible.
It would show a commitment to:
– making the most of technology for public good;
– reinforce public trust in those technologies (they are and can be made safe and secure);
– offering a new channel for participation (beyond polling stations and postal ballots) for people who cannot or do not want to vote in person.
It has been used in the Australian general election and the UD Democratic primaries.
A cross-EU pilot would address and dispel concerns (and myths) and offer an exciting new channel of participation for the future.

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  1. I whole heartedly agree. The Internet is now an everyday tool for living our lives so why not use it to cast a vote. We use it for banking, shopping, communicating etc. and I for one have no qualms about using it to cast my vote. As long as there is choice across a number of channels, eg traditional pen/paper, postal voting, the risk of wide scale fraud is minimised. So come on all you politicians and parliamentary officials, join in the new way of doing business.

  2. Using the internet for voting makes good sense. Many people who, for one reason or another, are unable to get to a polling station would be able to vote at a convenient time and place. Providing a choice in the way people can cast their vote is essential if we really want to encourage everyone to participate.

    Many of us can’t remember the last time we visited our banks as we do everything on-line or by telephone. Surely if banking, booking air flights and buying Christmas presents over the internet is so popular then voting would be also.

    Come on you legislators give us the opportunity to vote using 21 century technology instead of using the method provided more than a century ago.

  3. As the recently retired E-Envoy for Northern Ireland I was progressing the UK government policeis for eGovernment including choice of platform for interfacing with government, convenience in terms of where and when to effect transactions, and of course simplicity and accessibility.
    The introduction of eVoting therefore would be consistent with these policies and I would strongly support pilot projects.
    However on point of princiople I would like to see definitive objectives for such pilots published so that success could be measured and lessons learned for the future.

  4. Hi John! Great to hear from you. Thought I would weigh in with a few quick comments.

    Internet voting – as we all know – has had its ups and downs, and has been done remarkably well and surprisingly poorly. I say surprisingly poorly because at this late stage the main problems that have occurred have centred largely around execution – ie people and procedures -rather than technology. Problems on the execution side suggest a need, in my view, for further and more consistent piloting with an eye toward the establishment of standard protocols and procedures.

    2009 provides a valuable opportunity to help achieve this goal for a number of reasons:
    1) A pan-European election would provide a strong baseline for comparing successful approaches and products
    2) A 2009 election would provide a strong platform to build upon recent experiences in France, Estonia, Switzerland and the UK

    eVoting is certainly not a panacea for decling voter turnout and political apathy. As the current US Presidential race makes abundently clear – voters vote when they care about the candidates and issues. Nevertheless, as technology is an increasing part of our everyday lives, it strikes me as somewhat dangerous in the long run to ring fence elections from its impact.

  5. Dear Orcad:
    You are absolutely right, there would be no way to stop such a situation. Which is why such a person would probably vote from a normal voting station. I am not suggesting that voting via Internet is obligatory, but that it is a possibility for those who want to use it.
    That said, some people might prefer the privacy of voting online to being (or feeling) intimidtaed going along to a polling station. Sadly, that happens too, also in democratic countries, like mine too. To which countries are you referring?

  6. I agree with Peter for all of the reasons that he states. In addition, in a Europe that is becoming increasingly aware of the impact of its activities on the environment, the European electorate should be given the option of using the most environmentally effective of way of casting a vote.

  7. In theory this is a very good idea but i doubt it will work for 2 simple reasons:

    1) How can you verify a persons identity online, even if you use credit cards or other personal information they are still easy to get a hold of.

    2) One cannot guarantee the privacy of the voter. one cannot know if the person voting is on his own or is next to someone who could be influencing that person to vote in a particular way.

    Having said that, if there is away to get around these issues this is a great idea, and i do think that both country governments and European bodies should implement more online systems in their government to citizen interactions.

  8. Oliver S

    I would answer your two points as follows:

    First verifying a person’s identity. This is as much an issue in the current manual world as in the new online world. A person can cast their vote in a polling station without any positive check on their identity, in the UK at least. Similarly if postal votes are used then there is little or no way of checking the identity of the person casting the vote. So technology doesn’t change that conundrum. If anything there are more ways of checking identity in the online world than in the manual world.
    Secondly coercion. This again happens in the current voting regime. Voters can be put under pressure from others to cast their votes in a particular way even though they don’t go into the voting booth with them. Technology can help to overcome this in a variety of ways. Perhaps the simplest is to allow people to cast their votes more than once, so if someone is coerced they could vote again later when on their own and change the vote to what they wanted in the first place.
    So these problems are not just exclusive to the online world and there are ways and means of overcoming them. It just needs some innovative thinking.

  9. Peter,

    As you know I’m a major advocate for trusted electronic voting systems.

    I truly believe that eventually we will have secure digital voting and that will empower the electorate. Problem is that right now we do not.

    I’ve been striving through the work of OVS and advocating OASIS EML to address the gross problems with existing voting systems – let alone internet ones.

    I’ve actually designed a MilVoter system for the US DOD to provide secure voting for military personnel and report those votes back to the consituencies. Bare in mind this is a closed secure network with known people, registered to the correct locales. Even then there are significant challenges in maintaining voter privacy AND allowing the voter to know their ballot has been cast and recorded how they intended AND allow true open auditing and verification of the votes. Basically for this you need paper and digital votes.

    The snag is noone wants to fund development of this because the politicians are scared silly of such a real and true system. They like systems that frankly are “suspect”. They also don’t a truly good reference system to be setup that makes their current systems look very shoddy.

    Result is once again – noone trusts the politicians; noone trusts their voting systems (paid for and manipulated by politicians); and voter turn-out is just as bad as ever.

    Bottom line –

    a) you cannot cure voter turn-out with internet voting – you are just putting lipstick on a pig.

    b) what we really need is the EU / UN to sponsor an independent development of open source and open standard voting system – that can then be peer-reviewed and form the basis for trusted voting worldwide

    c) We’ve designed and prototyped this – but until sponsors get serious about funding this – the current situation will continue to be woeful.

    c) I see not just internet – but small device voting (e.g. using cheap cellphone-based devices) for 3rd world country voting) as having huge potential to empower people – but this is a very double edged sword – and has to be done exactly right – just like nuclear technology is not just given to everyone – its very closely monitored and tracked and peer reviewed.

  10. I just have one objection : what for ?

    If people don’t want to vote, or don’t want to take a free hour to vote, or to register for proxy voting, well – it’s their choice !…

    People vote when there is something at stake, the turnout reached last year in France is a good example (85%).

    Of course I regret that the general trend is a decline of turnout. But that’s not the electing system’s fault, electronic voting won’t make political campaigns more interesting ! It’s rather the parties’ and media’s responsibility to explain why voting is important.

    And even if it was the reason, even if this archaic way we still design our decision makers accounted for one or two percents less turnout, are there not more urgent investments to make than setting up a whole electronic voting system ? I mean transportation, energy, social services…

  11. Identity is a key issue. Yet many member states can make use of their unique citizen identifiers.

    Given penetration figures online should also include text.

    A voting receipt should be texted/emailed to the citizen, which would go some way to verifying identity and identifying any fraudulent activities.

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