UK’s Online Voting: Engaging Millions, Boosting Access, Tackling Security

by | Jun 29, 2024

With the UK General Election on the horizon, an innovative proposal to introduce online voting holds the potential to radically reshape the electoral landscape. Research conducted by Broadband Genie suggests that an online voting system could engage an additional 4.9 million voters, addressing the issue of voter apathy and uncertainty among approximately 6.8 million eligible voters. This notion is underpinned by a OnePoll survey, which revealed that 72% of those currently undecided or planning to abstain would be encouraged to vote if an online option were available.

The potential influx of voters is particularly notable among young adults, especially those aged 25-34. Currently, 19% of this age group do not intend to vote, but a staggering 86% indicated they would be more likely to participate if online voting were an option. Younger voters, aged 18-24, also demonstrate a marked change in voting intentions with online access. At present, 26% of this demographic are either unsure or do not plan to vote, but over half (57%) would be persuaded to vote online.

A regional analysis paints an intriguing picture of the UK’s readiness for online voting. London and the West Midlands show the highest willingness to adopt an online voting system, with 87% in favor. Conversely, the East of England, while showing the lowest conversion rate, still sees more than half (52%) willing to vote online. This regional disparity underscores the importance of considering local contexts in the implementation of any new voting system. The concept of online voting is not without precedent. Estonia, often hailed as a digital pioneer, successfully implemented online voting during the 2019 Riigikogu elections, where 47% of voters used the online system to cast their ballots. This serves as a compelling case study for the UK, suggesting that online voting can be both feasible and effective.

Broadband Genie posits that online voting in the UK could reduce accessibility barriers that currently hinder disabled individuals and those registered at incorrect addresses from voting. This is particularly significant given the current clunky postal vote system, which often results in void ballots. Alex Tofts, a broadband expert at Broadband Genie, remarked, “Not all parties would welcome an online vote; however, such a system may be an improvement of our current outdated and labor-intensive solution. It could also resolve the issue of the clunky postal vote, remove void ballot papers, and would be a step in the right direction for accessibility.” However, the proposal is not without its challenges. Security concerns loom large, especially in light of rising cyber-attacks. Previous reports indicate that the UK has seen a surge in cyber-attacks, with 50% of businesses suffering a security breach in 2024, an 11% increase from 2022. Security experts worry that introducing an online voting system could expose the electoral process to hacking and other forms of cyber manipulation.

If an online voting system were implemented, political parties could experience varying impacts. Labour could expect a potential increase, with 16% of new voters likely to back the party. Plaid Cymru could see a 27% increase in votes, the largest gain among parties. Tofts also highlighted infrastructure concerns, stating, “If the UK is eager to explore the possibility of an online vote, our broadband infrastructure might not be up to scratch. There are thousands of households which cannot achieve a download speed of 2Mb, and only 5% of eligible customers sign up to a broadband social tariff.” The potential introduction of online voting in the UK could mark a significant shift in how citizens engage with the democratic process. The prospect of increasing voter turnout, particularly among younger demographics, is a compelling reason to explore this option further. However, the disparities in regional willingness to adopt online voting and the significant security concerns must be addressed comprehensively.

The example of Estonia provides a valuable reference point, demonstrating that online voting can be both practical and secure when implemented correctly. However, the UK’s larger population and more complex electoral landscape present unique challenges that must be carefully navigated. The future of online voting in the UK hinges on several critical factors. Firstly, addressing security concerns is paramount. Robust cybersecurity measures and comprehensive testing must be implemented to safeguard the integrity of the electoral process. Collaborating with cybersecurity experts and learning from countries like Estonia could provide valuable insights. Secondly, improving broadband infrastructure is essential. Ensuring that all households have reliable internet access is a prerequisite for the successful implementation of online voting. Government initiatives to expand broadband coverage and increase uptake of social tariffs could play a pivotal role in this regard. Finally, political will and public trust will be crucial. Building consensus among political parties and fostering public confidence in the security and reliability of online voting will be key to its successful adoption. As the UK continues to grapple with evolving technological and electoral challenges, the potential for online voting remains a tantalizing prospect that could reshape the democratic landscape for years to come.