Time for internet voting?
Sir, – Tomorrow, voters will head to polling stations to cast their votes by putting numbers on a piece of paper. But is the voting system we use to exercise our democratic right archaic and out of sync with the digital age?
While the electoral system facilitates citizens to vote for individuals or issues (in the case of referendums), voters normally need to attend in person at a specific polling booth to vote.
Elections are usually held during weekdays and voters can only exercise their right to vote at specific times (7am to 10pm). Queueing occurs at peak periods and certain groups are disadvantaged, like the elderly and shift workers. Bad weather increases the likelihood of people not venturing out to the polling station. And then there is the vote counting. The proportional system of the single transferable vote (PR-STV) is a multi-stage process and the final results may not be known for a week.
So has the time come for internet voting (i-voting) to be considered?
With the internet, voting could take place at any time and any place and in a matter of minutes prior to the election deadline.
It would make voting more convenient and increase participation rates (Ireland does have one of the lowest average turnout levels at elections in western Europe).Young people are particularly reluctant to vote and given the universal use of smartphones, online voting has the potential to increase the number of people involved in the democratic process by making it easier to vote.
Several countries have piloted online voting but Estonia is the only country to use i-voting for all groups in national elections. In Estonia’s 2017 local elections, internet voting reached 32 per cent of the electorate (up from 1.9 per cent in 2005).
A critical part of Estonia’s online voting system is that it has a state-of-the-art electronic ID card. The ID card, carried by every individual, comes with a chip-and-pin reader making it suitable for online authentication. Newer cards include an electronic copying of the owner’s fingerprints. Some US states allow armed forces personnel and overseas voters to vote online. The Australian province of New South Wales allows internet voting for voters who are out of state on polling day.
However, moving towards a digital democracy presumes that all members of society have the awareness, interest, access and skills necessary for digital inclusion. However, this argument becomes irrelevant where internet voting complements rather than replaces voting in person. In countries where i-voting has been trialled, it has been offered as an alternative to traditional voting.
But, perhaps, the main argument against internet voting are the security risks. People worry about hackers infiltrating the system and allowing governments to know how individuals have voted, leading to surveillance and control of citizens.
But even if i-voting cannot be made fully secure, security risks can be minimised to an acceptable level like online banking and shopping.
But it will be some time before a username and password replaces the polling card. – Yours, etc,
Faculty of Engineering
and Built Environment