A couple of weeks have now passed since the general election and most of the moaning and bickering seems to have subsided. But what was the biggest shock of the 2015 election? Was it that the Tories managed, apparently against all odds, to win a majority of the seats in the house of commons? Was it that three of the party leaders subsequently resigned (and one then performed the best comeback since Lazarus…and now might be going again)? Or was it even that the SNP almost entirely swept the board in Scotland? Well no, for me the biggest surprise is that we still operate with such an antiquated voting system. Why on earth are we still voting with pencils and paper?
I must admit that, like a penalty shootout (no one seems to like them either though), there is some added drama and tension in the system we currently have. Having to wait as the results trickle in, constituency by constituency, over the course of the following day is, for some, as exciting as it gets. For others, like me, it is tedium only broken by the satisfaction of watching some rather fatuous and arrogant individuals eat their words in the most publicly embarrassing way. But strip back the excitement and what you are left with is a supremely inefficient exercise that involves far more people than is necessary. The reality is that in the 21st century we are still operating with a process that existed when landowners and Lords were the only ones who could vote and rotten boroughs were still a legitimate way to manipulate the system. It really does beggar belief that we aren’t embracing the digital age and putting in a process that would mean we can know the result of the general election not hours after the votes are cast but minutes.
Of course, whenever you try and have a sensible conversation about this with someone the first objection that is thrown your way is that it wouldn’t be secure or anonymous and therefore easy to manipulate/ Well this is just simply naive. Anyone who works in IT and has any talent would be able to design a system that allows for completely anonymous voting, where the vote casting mechanism is completely uncoupled from any data about a person. And a lot more sensitive data than vote counts are stored online all over the world without any security issues. Quite simply, it wouldn’t be that hard to do.
So let’s think about the question of security for a moment then. Many people object saying that the system would be easy to manipulate but surely no easier than the current system, which if my experience is anything to go by would be incredibly easy to manipulate. My experience this year of wondering down to my local polling station was about as lax as you can get. I didn’t need my polling card and I didn’t have to present any identification. The only thing I had to do was say my name and address, which they then found on the sheet, ticked off and handed my the voting slip. As I am quite familiar with the names and addresses of a few other people in my area, and like everyone else I also have access to the electoral role, it would be beyond the whit of man to have voted many times under the guise of many different people that day. It certainly would have been easy enough to have found out who wasn’t voting and go and cast on their behalf. No CCTV, no actual checks. I could have turned up with a bus load of homeless people, given them all a name and address and said “go and put a tick in the first box”.
The current process is not only slow, arduous and prone to error, it is also fundamentally insecure and easy to manipulate. Surely we are now in a position where we should be using a digital process? Other sectors abandoned pen and paper years ago, in favour of more optimised ways of working. The benefits of going digital on the election are quite clear and the objections to it are not things that couldn’t easily be solved. Only five years to develop the right system…but I suspect we’d need a referendum to decide whether we want to do it!