Natalie Bleakley, @nataliebleakley
In an age where a click of a mouse can get me a fridge full of food, a whole new wardrobe, even a new romance, then why not, a new government?
With more and more people decamping en masse to the comfortable convenience of the internet, it may be time to consider taking one more process online – voting.
And let’s be honest the stats are in our favour for a change in the way we do things currently, with voter turnout deflating year-after-year, election-after-election. From 1997 to 2010 we’ve seen turnout decline from 71.5% to 65.7% – even hitting as low as 59.4% in 2001 (!).
That’s a huge black hole in participation. And the most worrying thing about this trend is that it is a problem that is concentrated amongst young voters, with voters aged 18-24 those least likely to head to the ballot box. Ipsos MORI estimates that in 2001 just 39% of registered young people aged 18-24 actually voted, and that figure fell to 37% at the 2005 general election.
And who can blame them? Politics (quite literally) aside, the process of voting is a fairly depressing one – make your way to a dusty old village hall, to be greeted by middle-aged men in checked shirts, in to the wonky wooden booth, pull the musty blue curtain behind you and… oh who can be bothered.
Of course studies and opinion polls have shown there are a multitude of reasons for not voting:
The political – parties drawing closer to the centre-line and selling themselves as all-encompassing representatives, has meant people see little point in choosing between them if they all promise to do the same thing.
Resources – education, class and geography implications that predetermine some voter behaviour.
Alienation – lacking faith in the political process, dismay with politicians, or disappointment at the results of a previous election
However a study carried out by MORI for the Electoral Commission following the record-low turn out of 2001, found that a major factor for young people was simply the inconvenience of voting. The study found that it was young non-voters that were more in favour of reforms to the voting process that would widen accessibility i.e. 24 hour polling stations, internet voting, telephone voting. This would suggest young voters who previously abstained from voting would be more likely to vote if the process was more convenient.
In Geneva, the e-vote has become part and parcel of the voting process, as an alterative to the ballot box or postal vote. Following pilot schemes throughout the early 2000’s across Switzerland, the concept gained popularity across the whole country with two-thirds of Swizz citizens wanting to be able to vote online (Bern University eGov Trendbarometer survey).
But what’s important about the example of Geneva is that it tackles the problem we have in this country – the dwindling young vote. In Geneva it was those occasional and rare voters that most favoured the online voting; i.e. those whose likelihood of voting is most likely to be off-set by convenience (or more precisely inconvenience). With 83.3% of those who described themselves as ‘voting rarely’ casting their vote online in the 2004 election, compared to the 16.7% of ‘rare’ voters that went to the ballot box, the positive results are clear cut (1).
Now, the share of online votes in Geneva stands at around 20%, meaning there is a stable and constant core of voters who prefer the e-vote to the ballot box. The results in Geneva have been so successful that the Geneva government expect an increase in turnout once the e-vote is rolled out in to widespread use.
With a success story like Geneva, it’s high-time the government started to introduce the e-vote for UK general elections. The power of social networking platforms to market politics and ‘get out the vote’ would be revolutionary for British politics, and more importantly, for increasing accessibility between young voters and politicians.
After all, as I have said before, we have a generation of voters that have outgrown the formal processes of our political system. Our politics has failed to engage them and adapt to their needs. But rather than being apathetic, the response of young voters has been to adapt the way they engage themselves with politics. Politics is not becoming less popular – traditional forms of politics are becoming less popular: young voters see more power in protest and petitioning than they do in voting; high levels of scrutiny are becoming more common place in the UK; and freedom of information and the engagement of the internet have served to make politics more accessible.
And whilst it looks unlikely that the Coalition will introduce online voting for the 2015 general election, what is for sure is that a government that fails to adapt to the evolution of our democracy, is one that will continue to experience low levels of participation amongst young voters. Abandon the e-vote, abandon a generation.