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Wednesday, 6 June, 2001, 16:08 GMT 17:08 UK
E-lections - would they work here?
Political parties are now using text messages and emails to get people to the polls.
Record numbers will vote by post this time, but future elections could go online, allowing people to cast their votes in cyberspace.
Mo Mowlam has said that Britain is not ready for an internet election, but the USA has already experimented with internet voting, and the 2003 Estonian general election will be held online.
Hve u bn txtd in this election? Would you prefer to vote on the internet from the comfort of your home?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The debate about voting online completely misses the point about the power of the net to revolutionise politics. In this election, the NSPCC and Age Concern are actively using the net to get their volunteers talking directly to candidates. This is the future - the grassroots telling the politicians how it should be between elections, not the state simply allowing people to vote more easily once every few years.
Mark Flannagan, Advocacy Online, London
The general election is too important to entrust to a technology so open to misuse. The web simply is not secure enough. That aside, it makes a mockery of the principle of a "secret ballot" to suggest we use it to cast our vote. If the sender cannot be identified, how will we ensure it is a valid vote? Catch-22!
I haven't been texted by any of the parties - do they think I am too old to understand txt?
No. It's very dodgy. If people can easily hack into Yahoo, Microsoft and the Pentagon, I'm sure it would not be that hard to get a result your way.
E-voting sounds great in principle in terms of greater accessibility etc. I do see a problem, however, with data protection. We are placing our political preference alongside our name. Would this not be an affront to the principle of the secret ballet?
Internet voting is a great idea; yes, security is an issue but exactly how difficult is it to forge a polling card? With current technology the security aspect could easily be overcome and I strongly feel the turnout would significantly increase from the predicted all-time low of the forthcoming election. There is also the added bonus of saving a few trees in the process.
Jason Soraff, London, UK
Not everyone has access to the internet and/or enough PC knowledge to log on, let alone find the relevant web site and vote. But I do like being able to e-mail comments to politicians. I always feel that they have more chance of being read and responded to than a letter has.
As others have pointed out here, e-voting would be susceptible to fraud and access problems. The manifestos put out for polling do not affect us - it's what the government actually does when in power that counts. I think that e-debating would be a much more powerful expression of democracy and allow the politicians to really find out what the concerned and interested in the electorate think of policies and issues. In particular that sort of debate is very public and immediate compared to the focus groups etc.
I think voting online is quite a good idea, but texting is stupid. Yes, 14 year olds may use it, but I don't know anyone that is old enough to vote using text messages. It would do to texting what Jeremy Clarkson did to jeans.
Sally, Nottingham, UK
I think that electronic elections would be a grave mistake. Not only would it be very much open to abuse, but it would also be bad for the UK political system. People would find it much easier to vote and, consequently, would not bother to think about it before they pressed the button. Long live paper and pencil!
In the interests of self-preservation politicians will hold back the development of electronic voting for as long as possible. Politicians are the representatives of the people - essentially middlemen. Taking electronic democracy to it's ultimate conclusion will mean putting the decision making back into the hands of the people and politicians will inevitably become obsolete.
Being able to vote in any form would be nice for me!
Due to the postal strikes I
cannot vote in my home
town of Stockport as I'm at
university in Sheffield.
However I feel fraud is a good enough reason to
keep the majority of voting
E-lections may be good news for the voter, but consider for a moment the candidates and party workers. Possibly the most fun part of the election is attending the physical counting of votes and seeing your candidate propelled to victory or defeat. The disappearance of physical counts would be a real loss.
Matthew Palmer, Reading, England
In principal, yes, but speaking even as an ardent internet fan - only if
firstly, it could be guaranteed secure both during and after the vote itself, secondly, if we don't fall into the trap the government recently did of getting Microsoft to develop it and finding that only Windows/Internet exploiter users can vote and thirdly, if we can reliably identify individual voters and those eligible to vote.
Given these issues I rather fancy the good old slice of dead tree will be favourite for at least the general election after this one.
When you consider that that public-key cryptography can be cracked by government agencies and that quantum cryptography is unlikely to end up in the public domain, how secure is e-voting? Your vote could be easily intercepted and changed by corrupt governments without you ever realising it.
Last Friday night I was text'd by the Labour party at 10:30pm, asking if I was peeved that the pubs would be shutting in 30 minutes. It was followed by the message that Labour will be scrapping the current licensing laws if re-elected.
Kurt Stephens, Manchester
Voting is a civic act and should be conducted in the open - and I don't mean the abandonment of the secret ballot. Is it too much to ask that once every four or five years, electors leave the cocoon of their homes and exercise their right - and duty - in the open? Voting over the internet is an isolationist act - the very opposite of participatory democracy. The convenience and possibly higher turn-outs of internet voting are unconvincing reasons to abandon the obligation of turning out and being seen to take part.
A party worth voting for is one that encourages me to the polling booths. The internet makes it too easy.
Good idea...in principle. Anyone remember the Scotland-England
Why stop at elections? Why not a virtual parliament with everyone as MPs - or VMPs. The job of politicians would then be, not to "rule", but to debate the issues - then everyone who is interested has the opportunity to vote. True democracy.
Mick B, Luton, U.K.
In order for this to operate, every household would have to be supplied with a computer and connected to the Internet. Everyone, especially the elderly and unemployed, could not afford to purchase a computer.
Well it would be easier for the US government. At least they could claim not to have received votes rather than not bothering to count them. Or picture this: "This vote doesn't count - it's an x rather than an X in the box".
Whatever you think, it will be available in the not too distant future.
Vote via the net? Fine, if I can be sure someone else isn't going to vote for me. With current technology I wouldn't be too confident of that, and I'm not sure I'd want the intrusion of the technology that could provide that confidence. Could it increase turnout? Not a chance. That would happen anyway if the politicians would only talk sense.
Brian, Aylesbury UK
Imagine if you had intended to vote but just forgot to go to the polling booth - I think txtng people to remind them is a good idea.
Personally speaking (and seeing as it usually only happens every four or five years) I find it quite satisfying actually going down to the polling booth and marking that X on the ballot paper. People have no right to complain about the government of the day if they don't vote. That said, if the security implications can be resolved, it seems an online election may be the only way to go. Of course then you'll get people who say they can't be bothered to log on - politicians are all the same after all.
Voting should be simple and the mechanism should be understandable by anyone. Online voting is a waste of time and money. Votes should be cast by people and counted by people, not computers.
If I were an anarchist, I would love e-lections. It would be extremely simple to crash the whole thing. With a little bit of sophistication one could ensure the election of an anarchist government. Of course, such an administration would be honour-bound to use the Queen's Speech to announce its resignation! Perhaps it's not such a stupid idea after all.
Tom, Norfolk, UK
Paper voting all the way. As a professional software engineer, I know just how fragile software can be.
If even the Whitehouse website can be a target for hackers, then there are clear security issues which need to be addressed. But I feel uncomfortable that millions of taxpayers' money should be spent on this system when it's already very easy to vote. With easy postal votes, everyone that wants to vote can vote, with very little effort. The fact many don't vote is not because it's difficult to vote.
Let's make use of the new technology. If we can vote using the internet let's do it. After all, we use the internet this days for all sorts of things, including banking. I am sure it will mean more voters, especially young voters, who are least likely to vote at this election.
If you think that polling stations will disappear, I think you'll find that won't happen, for a long time. It's another way to do something, it just gives greater access. I'm sure that the BBC still has to check phone messages, fax messages, email, and their good old-fashioned postbag.
As someone who works for one of Britain's leading internet providers, I would certainly welcome an online election. However, it is important to understand the implications of such a radical reformation of the system. The security risks are significant - although I am confident that, with the support and consultancy of senior security architects from around the country, the system could be perfectly tight. I think the significant advantage in an online election (or at least an online voting option) is that for those who do have internet access, the physical aspect of getting to a polling station cannot provide an excuse for not voting. I would be surprised if voter "turnout" did not significantly increase.
Gary Feldman, London, UK
Blindly throwing technology at the problem of lowering turnouts will not work.
I haven't been texted yet, but I wouldn't be very happy with the party that did it if I was. People have the right to ignore election propaganda if they want to, and texting someone's phone is just plain intrusive.
E-canvassing, e-debating, even e-registration to vote, yes. E-lections, certainly not yet. Bits of paper have the advantage of being very observable - a fixed number of ballot boxes which enough people are looking at to make sure nobody sneaks extra votes into, a paper list of eligible voters where the names are physically ticked off when they vote. At the end of the day, the number of ballot papers in the box can be counted, and must be equal to the number of ticks on the list of voters. Its very simplicity makes it trustworthy.
I'm sure some will blast me as a Luddite for this one, but I like physical votes. If there is ever any doubt, the pieces of physical paper can be recounted as many times as necessary. An electronic vote is at the mercy of software, which can easily be rigged. If no physical vote exists, then the vote can potentially be lost forever. If we ever replace our rather archaic voting system it might make a difference.
John B, UK
I think it's a fine idea and something that would reverse flagging poll turnouts, but only if the system was secure enough. A lot of work would have to be done to make it secure and to keep it that way. Breaking into the system and humiliating the government would be an irresistible draw for many crackers, so it will have to be very robust.
George Orwell was right! IngSoc is now being spoken, and it's doubleplusungood. This pathetic stunt as almost as bad as the BBC devoting a whole night to text messages...
Twenty-five per cent of the population can't be bothered to vote by crossing a small piece of paper. Give us more choices to achieve an objective and all you get is more reasons for not doing it, supported by that trusty band of devotees set solely on identifying the weaknesses within the system, normally by exposing them to the shame of the system designers. Let's stick to the pencil and paper system. It's worked well for years so don't fix it. Remember Florida - they thought they were being clever too.
General Election: Ctrl Alt Del; Government statements: F1 (Help); Cabinet reshuffle: Insert/Delete; Photo opportunity: Print Screen; Political broadcasts: Num(b)lock; Left wingers:* (wild cards); Emigrate: Esc
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK
I haven't been txtd, and quite frankly I don't want to be - however, I'd definitely vote on the internet. It's so convenient, and it means that those people who are unable to get to the polling stations can make use of another ideal form of communication!
I would love to vote over the internet, as long as it was secure.
E-lections eh ? Great idea for the people who have difficulty travelling to and from the voting booths, but what a fabulous target for the more nefarious net users. Recent denial of service attacks on Yahoo and the like highlight what is currently possible for hackers, but these attacks were, to the majority of users, a short term nuisance. What would happen if the E-lection voting site was down for the day of the election? Would the people who had registered for this method of voting lose their right to vote? Would a second election day take place? I'm sure that the boffins who set up the web site will have learned from the Yahoo attacks, but as Steve Gibson (who has repelled several denial of service attacks) said in his open letter to hackers, "I Surrender!"
Good Luck Estonia in 2003!
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