Digital democracy, online voting and divorce

Yesterday heralded the publishing of the report by the Speaker’s Commission for Digital Democracy, I was part of the team that worked on it for the last year – and loved every moment. The report is here should you fancy a quick read, there is a lot in there, but it is all pretty sane – although I am biased (and proud!).

In my last post on this topic, written the evening before the report publication, I mentioned how the work we did became far more about how you re-settle democracy in a digital age, rather than just chucking digital at the democratic system and processes we have in place at the moment. Systems and processes that are not really engaging anyone and have not embraced the digital communities in any immediately obvious fashion.

This has led to people not feeling particularly well-represented, despondent and completely disengaged from what actually happens in Parliament, other than shouting at each other and roaring old fashioned expletives at each other across the floor of the House of Commons. This is an issue that cannot be wholly addressed by a Commission charged with “investigating the opportunities digital technology can bring for parliamentary democracy in the UK”, but one that is pretty easy to recognise.

Heading for the divorce courts

Throughout the last year, conversations have run rife around Commissioners’ kitchen tables, official round tables, formal meetings in Parliament and sports stadiums (stadia for the insistent) around the UK about what is driving everyone nuts. And most of the time this came down to a mismatch in what people were saying in their digital communities and online social spaces, and what they were hearing in Parliament. There was a breakdown in communication and this was really divorcing the people from their elected representatives.

It often felt like we were the marriage counsellors in the initial grumpy meetings of two very unhappy souls: Mr People and Mrs Parliament. Both really want the marriage to work – but neither party were really hearing each other. One had a whole digital life that was being completely ignored, or inappropriately engaged with, by the other. And we had to just sit back and listen for a year before we sketched out a route to resolving the digital element of this.

I know: online voting!!

I will write about a few of the recommendations as I have time over the coming weeks, but I would like to really refocus one conversation thread that has been the almost sole focus of the press reporting recently: online voting.

It was not something that people really complained about, it was just an assumption that one day they would be able to and that this ability would be there. We spoke to a *lot* of experts around the world about this, and it is a focus for many democratic countries but has great challenges for security and anonymity online; as anyone who knows anything about cyber-security will tell you. (Yes we spoke to Estonia!). Nevertheless, it is something that people just expect, and so it is in the report as something that needs to be given priority and attention, under the heading: by the 2020 election people should have the option to vote digitally.

Being able to digitally approve or disapprove of annual marriage check-ins is not the answer to the current crisis in democracy. A change in the way we communicate with our representatives, and the way they communicate back to us is what will make the biggest difference. And digital means can go a huge way to addressing this breakdown, mainly through communication and community, openness and transparency.

The trust has left the marriage. Only vigilance, truth, openness and honesty will bring back the democratic dream.

If there is democracy, there has to be digital…

… and voting is a key element of representative democracy. Therefore digital voting must be incorporated into representative democracy in a digital age. It is not by any means a top story solution, but it is an easy headline, and an easy topic to chew the fat over with digital types – please can we not let it derail or skew the rest of the recommendations?


10 responses

  1. Pingback: 1 – Divorce and online voting –

  2. Pingback: Digital democracy, online voting and divorce – Emma Mulqueeny | Public Sector Blogs

  3. John, talk me through this statement. Why will Digital voting turn it into X Factor (and before you answer, please can you let me know if you read the rest of the recommendations?)

    • Sorry for not getting back to you sooner. To answer your question, yes I have perused the rest of the recommendations and have no disagreement with them.

      But I think the act of voting is different, even if security and the avoidance of undue familial pressure can be guaranteed. Democracy is earned at a great price and I think voting needs to acknowledge that. If a citizen can’t be bothered to go to the ballot box or arrange a postal vote (as I did many years ago) then I worry that they’re not taking the responsibilities concurrent with their right to vote. There has to be a degree of effort and “sacrifice” otherwise the vote has no gravitas.

      Just because we could have online voting doesn’t mean we should, nor does not having it mean we are backward-looking.

      As you know, I’m not anti-technology and there really should be a way to ensure that votes are counted quicker. In the States, people vote by puling levers on mechanical machines and that means that the totals can be correlated as soon as the poll has closed. Why we bother with paper is beyond me.

      Would be lovely to chat about this and so much more. It’s been far too long.

  4. I think John’s point about household pressure is a strong one and not something I had ever considered.

    However, after voting for a candidate, I would like to be given a unique ID, tied to my voting paper anonymously so that I could register which policies I disagreed with on-line during the following week, totals to be made public later without delaying the election results. I usually vote for the party I dislike least and I then get furious hearing the party I voted for claiming I supported their more ridiculous ideas. It would be a small step in the direction of finer-grained democracy for those who wish to express a more nuanced opinion.

  5. In light of the latest Tower Hamlet revelations that maybe as many of a quarter of all postal votes were filled out by one person, I now have reservations about any vote that doesn’t involve the physical presence of the voter in a private booth in a public place.

  6. I’m watching a documentary about Parliament and the mischievous thought occurs to me – would MPs view online voting as a good way to replace divisions?

  7. Good post

    It has already been proposed and welcomed by govt that the 2021 census be predominantly online. So the IT solutions for security issues (or similar to what is needed) are already there or in prospect?

    Perhaps the bigger barriers are
    -mistrust of politicians, the media and ‘s establishment’ following several scandals in recent years
    -maybe like ID cards, the electorate’s opposition to and distrust of any further central holding or collation of information about them
    – concern about potential fraud
    –govt’s not good reputation for managing and delivering big IT projects.

    Sorry if that sounds cynical

    Last but not least I must emphasise these are personal opinions and do not represent the views of others (or my employer)

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