Switching to electronic voting poses lucrative opportunities for private companies – and they’re now champing at the bit to get involved. It is, right now, a relatively small market. Only about 20 countries around the world look to the international marketplace to procure electronic systems which will help their elections run smoothly. Most of them have done so out of necessity. Governments facing limited public trust have proved more likely to abandon the laborious – and easily manipulated – paper-based voting methods than those in countries whose system isn’t obviously broken. Latin American states have been the most enthusiastic adopters. They’ve had some success. In Brazil, where the most recent presidential contest saw a gap of just 1.5% between the two main candidates, the results were released by the morning after polling day. And they weren’t contested. In Europe progress has been slower. An Irish attempt turned into a classic IT fiasco. A Dutch effort was quickly hacked, prompting embarrassment and a rapid retreat to paper-only systems. Europe has on the whole been a tricky market because of widespread worries about cybersecurity and privacy issues. And then, last month, a sudden enthusiasm for making the change suddenly emerged in Britain.
“In the 2020 general election,” the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy recommended, “secure online voting should be an option for all voters”. This was unexpected. The UK, unencumbered by controversy over hanging chads and placing complete trust in the army of teacher-type volunteers who count its votes, had not previously shown much interest in upgrading its election system. Britain is a small-c conservative sort of country. There didn’t appear to be much need for a change, so there hadn’t been many calls for one.
The Speaker’s Commission took a different view. Its focus on finding ways parliament can use the internet to reinvigorate the UK’s sluggish democracy had led it to a novel conclusion about electronic voting. “There’s a whole layer of people who expect to do everything on their apps, and sooner or later they’ll expect to vote online,” commissioner Dr Cristina Leston-Bandeira of the University of Hull explained last month to Politics.co.uk. “We have to think in terms of the future. Technology is moving so fast we hope that soon it will be possible for people to vote online and have trust in the system as they do so.”