UK Liberty

democracy under attack

Posted in voting by ukliberty on March 2, 2007

The Times:

The Government has brushed aside the Electoral Commission and given the go-ahead for trials of vote-counting by internet and electronic methods, despite being warned of “considerable concerns”, The Times has learnt.

The elections watchdog gave warning to Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Constitutional Affairs Minister, in December that seven of the 12 trials taking place at the local elections in May should not go ahead. They revealed significant concerns about a further two.

“There is a worrying lack of detail about specific elements of the proposed schemes in a number of applications. In particular, we are concerned that the administrative aspects of the election process should not become an issue of dispute in the election itself,” the letter said.

The commission had particular concerns over trials of electronic counting, where ballots would be checked by computer. …

A month or so later, the Commission changed its mind.

This week Sir Alistair Graham, the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, criticised the Electoral Commission for being “complicit” in its dealings with the DCA, and said it had its priorities wrong.

“The Commission was working closely with DCA to implement and encourage the very policies that have damaged and risk continuing to damage the integrity of the electoral system. I am concerned that the commission is still endorsing high-risk aspects of DCA’s modernisation agenda,” he said. He added that new voting systems may not be secure.

“All the glib talk about the need to find customer-friendly ways of voting by post, text and the internet has ignored the hard truth that once you allow ballot papers to leave polling stations the opportunities for fraud multiply and the secrecy of the ballot is compromised.” He cited prosecutions for electoral fraud in Blackburn, Havant, Bristol and Peterborough.

People in the USA have relatively more experience of electronic voting than us. I recommend Bruce Schneier’s articles for readability and references.

An independent inquiry – the Power Inquiry – was setup some time ago “to explore how political participation and involvement can be increased and deepened in Britain. Its work is based on the primary belief that a healthy democracy requires the active participation of its citizens.”

What the inquiry found is that there are several myths and ‘red herrings’ about political disengagement in the UK. Not least among these is the idea that we are apathetic – we aren’t. An increasing number of people are getting involved with charities and community work. More people are becoming involved with (and voting for) minority parties.

But generally we are disengaging from what most people immediately think of as ‘politics’ – the formal politics of councils and Westminster, for example.

According to the inquiry, the reasons for disengagement appear to be that

  • citizens do not feel that the processes of formal democracy offer them enough influence over political decisions – this includes party members who feel they have no say in policy-making and are increasingly disaffected;
  • the main political parties are widely perceived to be too similar and lacking in principle;
  • the electoral system is widely perceived as leading to unequal and wasted votes;
  • political parties and elections require citizens to commit to too broad a range of policies;
  • many people feel they lack information or knowledge about formal politics; and,
  • voting procedures are regarded by some as inconvenient and unattractive.

Fair enough, let’s look at alternative methods of voting. But if, after looking at those methods, not one has the security and reliability of the ballot paper, should will still go ahead with getting rid of the ballot paper just because some people find it inconvenient and unattractive?

It might not seem like it at times, but we are pretty lucky in that we can change our government every few years.

Once that ability is compromised, we won’t be living in a democracy.

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  1. […] by the way, that the Electoral Commission warned us about in […]

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