Turnout at Jersey’s general election could be hugely increased if people were able vote online.
A major study of more than a thousand households, shows 63% of respondents say that’s the one thing that would make them more likely to get involved with influencing the island’s political direction.
The results come just months ahead of the election in May, amid concerns of an ongoing problem with low turnout. Just 39% of registered voters actually did so in the 2014 general election, compared to 72% in Guernsey’s 2016 poll, and 69% in the UK’s snap election last year.
Globally, 14 countries now using online voting for binding votes and referenda, and four countries have been doing so for multiple ballots: Canada, Estonia, France and Switzerland.
In Jersey, analysis of the age groups of those most likely to use online voting reveals stark differences. While only 29% of over 65s see going digital as a way to get them engaged, that increases to an overwhelming 77% of under 35s.
There are a number of obstacles to online voting, most notably trust in the system, concern about individual votes remaining secret, and accessibility for those with disabilities or a lack of understanding of using the internet.
Jersey’s stated digital ambitions including a ‘tell us once’ policy when it comes to interacting with government, meaning – for example – you shouldn’t need to contact multiple departments to tell them you’ve changed your address.
The government has also been looking to Estonia as it develops its previously-stalled eGov policy. The country is considered a world leader in using technology for the benefit of its citizen.
Any move to online voting could provide an opportunity for Jersey’s growing digital sector. It is seen as an important part of the the island’s economic future. But there are no signs the next general election on 16 May 2018 will see online voting.
In 2016, Deputy Geoff Southern asks the States for work to be done to look into online voting, but beyond some willingness to look at using technology within polling stations, there are still no plans to fundamentally change how the system works.
The latest policy, as explained by the official Jersey voting guide states:
“You can’t vote electronically at the current time. On the 22nd March 2016, the States agreed to an amended proposition from Deputy G.P. Southern of St. Helier, which asked the Privileges and Procedures Committee, together with the Comité des Connétables, and other government bodies, to research and trial electronic voting systems to introduce a safe and secure mechanism to enable eligible voters to vote electronically.”
“We intend to amend the Law to make electronic voting possible, but online voting gives rise to concerns about the risks of electoral fraud and how the secrecy of the ballot can be guaranteed, because people will be voting outside the supervised environment of the polling station.”
“An alternative option would be to introduce electronic voting within polling stations. In jurisdictions where this happens, voting machines print a paper receipt every time a vote is registered electronically so that re-counts can be conducted and the electronic count can be compared with a paper count.”
“A lot of work and research needs to be done before we can introduce electronic voting, to be sure that any such system processes data accurately and securely and to ensure that the voting public and candidates can be confident of the integrity of the voting process.”
Vote.je is now gathering views from Jersey residents as a result of the survey about voting. You can join the discussion on their Facebook page here.