At the last election in 2010, just 51.2% of 18-24 year olds bothered to find time within their day to vote. Granted, this was up from 37.6% in 2005 but still far behind the 66% national turnout, which in itself is disappointingly low. There are so many possible reasons for this but, from my own experiences in the past few weeks, I can see one that stands out beyond most. The very process of voting in this day and age is simply too bothersome.
My home is in Wiltshire, where I am currently registered to vote. As a student, I spend term time in Belfast, where I am studying at Queen’s and where I will be come election day. Hence a few weeks ago, I opted to register for a proxy vote, allowing my mother to vote on my behalf. Since then, the process which I have had to follow is archaic, tedious and often exasperating. As someone who takes a keen interest in politics, I have had the motivation to persevere and get myself registered to vote by proxy. Yet along the way I have cursed the entire system multiple times and its modernisation desperately needs to be addressed.
Firstly, the whole system needs to be simplified. The government’s own website provides a 90 page PDF document to guide people patronisingly through the process from start to finish. I am part of a generation who can barely be bothered to read a 90 word Facebook post, let alone 90 pages of government-issue garbage. More importantly, the voting system must be made accessible from anywhere in the world, preferably even on mobile devices. I find it hard to believe that the technology and security does not exist.
There can be no doubt that a system in which everyone can vote on the day via their mobile phones or computers rather than the local polling station would dramatically increase the percentage of voters. Each voter could register with their national insurance number on a mobile app, receive their one vote and have the whole thing done in five minutes while sat on their sofa, sat at their desk or from anywhere in the world. No need for postal votes, no need for proxy votes and no need to queue for hours at polling stations.
There are of course hurdles to overcome, security being the most obvious and would have to be bulletproof, certainly far beyond any current use for online banking and shopping. The effects of computer malfunctions, miscalculations, tampering or even a terrorist cyber attack could be devastating and this is an area of concern. However, an online voting system would stand alongside other formats, not replace them.
In Estonia and parts of Canada, online voting has been in use for a few years already. In Estonia in particular, around one quarter of its population now use the system. It is of course far too late to make a change for this election and similar systems in the UK will probably not be available for the next decade or two, as extensive research and trial periods will be necessary. However, as we approach an election where young voters could potentially be vital, and their very participation is in question due to the current distrust in modern politics, as well as the the influence of a certain former comedian, an online, mobile voting system seems an obvious step forward. One day it may just prove crucial.
By Ben Grimshaw, Junior Writer for Daily Political View.