Commentator says Votes for Life Bill includes element that could overcome government scepticism over e-votes
A Liberal Democrat commentator has claimed that a new parliamentary bill could pave the way for a switch to electronic voting, despite the government officially ruling it out.
Mark Pack, editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire, said the government’s Votes for Life Bill could lead to the introduction of online voting.
The bill is aimed at giving expatriates lifelong voting rights in parliamentary and European elections, and will scrap the current 15-year time limit on voting. But is also designed to “make it easier for overseas electors to cast their votes in time to be counted”.
Pointing to that phrase, Pack said: “This is about the problems with postal votes being sent out and returned in time for voters in countries with slower postal systems.
“There are many ways of tackling this, including making appointing proxies easier, requiring returning officers to give priority to sending out postal ballots to overseas voters first, allowing voting in embassies – and introducing online voting.”
Last year, the then constitution minister Sam Gyimah told MPs that such a voting revolution was unwise because there was no way to “check an error”.
The verdict was seen as a rebuke to Labour, which had pointed to electronic voting as part of a package of proposed reforms to try to match the record turnout at the Scottish referendum. At the general election it backed electronic voting, provided it could be shown “to be affordable and isn’t open to abuse”.
Gyimah said: “If someone voted online and there was an error there would be no mechanism for checking it. So that is a step we will not be taking at this moment.”
Pack has argued that online voting could come even if the government continued to oppose it, adding: “The odds of a backbench MP or someone in the Lords putting it down as an amendment are pretty high.”
He has pointed to unhappy experiences in both the US – involving voting by overseas armed forces – and Australia, to warn of the dangers of electronic voting.
He said an ‘iVote’ system was introduced for state elections in New South Wales in 2011, for voters more than 20 km from a polling station, but hackers were able to “read and manipulate votes”.