E-voting would have added 400,000 voters

1 Aug 2007

An additional 395,640 people would have been able to exercise their constitutional right to vote in the last Irish General Elections if there was an electronic means of voting. Instead, due to work, college, distance and an unworkable Thursday polling day, this electorate was lost on the day.

A new study by Millward Brown and commissioned by communications technology firm Damovo, 44pc of those surveyed who didn’t vote said this was because they couldn’t get to their polling station on the day of the vote.

Just over half of the respondents – 66pc of 18-34 year olds surveyed – said they would have been willing to use e-voting methods.

The survey also revealed a dearth in the use of electronic means of promoting candidates or of even showing the public how not to spoil a vote. Some 88pc of those surveyed claimed they did not receive any direct information electronically by candidates or parties.

On the day of the last General Election, only two million people went to the polling stations. Campaigns to have a weekend polling day to accommodate workers and students fell on deaf ears, amounting to accusations of political gerrymandering from some quarters.

Only 50pc of those aged between 18 and 24 surveyed voted in the recent election, while over 94pc of 65 year olds or over voted.

Over half of those surveyed reported they would consider using one or more e-voting options – whether by internet, interactive voice response or by mobile phone – if available. This rises to 66pc of 18-34 year olds.

Some 56pc of those who did not vote in the last election said they would have used e-voting if it were available to them, amounting to an estimated 395,640 potential voters.

Of those who would have been open to e-voting, text via mobile was the most popular option for 18-24 year olds. Using the internet on a secure website was the most popular for 25-34 year olds. Calling a telephone voting service was popular for 50 year olds and over.

“If you can do your tax returns online, why can’t you vote online?” asked John McCabe, chief executive of Damovo Ireland. “Citizens have a right to vote but not everyone can get away from the office on election day.

“Given this lost electorate some kind of technology to vote with should be considered and greater participation in elections will improve and strengthen the rights of all,” McCabe said.

Reminded of the hubbub around e-voting booths five years ago, McCabe said there are secure technologies available today that would eradicate concerns. “For purpose of identification people could use their biometric passports or use one-off polling cards.”

He said the Government has embarked on a Better Government campaign and that remote e-voting should be included in the range of services being evaluated.

“We should be considering this for the local elections in 2009 and trialling it out in various constituencies.

“Why shouldn’t Ireland take a lead in this? We’re a tech-savvy nation. Some 395,640 additional voters would have taken part had this technology been available in the last election,” McCabe added.

By John Kennedy