In the run up to this year’s general election there has been much talk about how to encourage young people to vote.
Campaigns like Bite the Ballot have staged online debates with most of the party leaders and used celebrity endorsements from the likes of Tiny Tempah and Eliza Doolittle. Students’ unions – including Sussex – have urged their members to register to vote. But these efforts are being hampered by Westminster’s reluctance to introduce a system that would be certain to impact upon the voting habits of young people – online voting.
To me, it seems this reluctance is just another part of our government’s slow attempt to try and disenfranchise young people.
For those of us at university, it has been made particularly difficult to vote; students living on campus can no longer be automatically registered to vote by their university and there can be complications over whether we are registered at our home or university addresses.
For Sussex students the election even falls during the spring holidays, so that we must vote by proxy as postal votes are not likely to be sent out in time.
A lot of these difficulties could be made far simpler if online voting were introduced. But when polls show that both Labour and the Greens are more popular among those aged 18-24 than either of the coalition parties, it’s clearly not in the government’s interest to encourage or make it easy for us to vote.
Of course there are concerns about security when it comes to online voting and many are worried that our democratic process could be undermined by hackers. But if we trust the internet enough to embrace banking and applying for passports and university online, why can’t we trust it with our votes too?
At this point it’s too late to introduce the process for the upcoming election, so the government’s computer boffins have five years to apply the same safety measures that protect vast amounts of our money to the protection of our votes.
Outside of young people there are other groups that would benefit from online voting too. A recent interview on BBC Four’s Woman’s Hour spoke to a group of working class women in London who said they simply weren’t able to fit a visit to the polling station around their work and families. If we could vote online perhaps these women would have time to make their voices heard in the democratic process, although of course this still depends on their having access to the internet.
Perhaps the tide is turning in favour of online voting though. A recent report from the Digital Democracy Commission, which was reported on in The Guardian, came out in favour of being able to cast votes online in the 2020 general election. The article even links this directly to young people, stating how online voting ‘in elections by 2020 would be complemented by changes in political education in schools in an effort to encourage young people to register to vote’.
The establishment calls our generation apathetic, but even if we are, they don’t seem to care about helping us become less so. If it did, it would demand that we took the power of the internet into our hands and used it to allow us to cast our votes online.