UK Politics

Bercow: E-voting would not be 'earth-shattering' step

Voters casting their ballot in the Newark by-election earlier this month Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Some people like to vote the traditional way but many have chosen not to

Commons Speaker John Bercow has said there is a strong case for people to be able to vote electronically to satisfy changing technological expectations.

Mr Bercow said e-voting in polling stations or at home should not be seen as an "earth-shattering" innovation.

Many people treated their phones and other digital devices as "an extension of themselves" and using them to vote would be a natural step, he argued.

But he insisted the "integrity of the ballot box" must be protected.

Mr Bercow is heading a commission into the future of digital democracy and the implications for Parliament of technological trends, such as the use of social media and e-commerce.

In a speech to the Policy Exchange think tank in London, the Speaker suggested that current arrangements for voting "lack transparency" and are not "conducive to increasing the desire for the citizen to participate or trust the system".

"The argument is that a good citizen should have to make an effort to vote, picking up a postcard posted to them weeks before and dragging themselves down to an empty community hall or primary school on a wet Thursday to put a cross on a tiny piece of paper," he said.

"Sorry but I am not convinced this is the pinnacle of 21st Century democracy in action."

'Reaching out'

Mr Bercow said that at a time when people think nothing of using the internet to bank or to date, it was not unreasonable to ask why they should not be able to also vote that way.

Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption Supporters of e-voting argue that it would help people who might find it difficult to get to a polling station

"Yes, of course, there are well-rehearsed arguments regarding electronic and internet voting and the integrity of the ballot box must be absolutely protected," he argued.

"That said in an era in which many people... treat their mobile phone or tablet as an extension of themselves... would it really be an earth-shattering change for voters to vote electronically in a polling station. Or at home, as they do so now with a postal vote."

Innovations such as postal ballots have been introduced in recent years to make voting easier for people who struggle to get to polling stations on the day of an election.

Supporters of e-voting say that it could help to improve turnout at elections. In last month's European elections, only 34% of eligible voters took part.

Mr Bercow also said the House of Commons should consider introducing some form of electronic voting into its procedures as a way of "reaching out" to the world outside.

He said the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly all used some form of e-voting and, in the case of Wales, this allowed details of votes to be published within half an hour.

"In 21st Century Britain, there is an expectation of openness, a need for flexibility and a greater understanding that people... use and do not use modern technology in a manner that suits them," he added.

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