The UK focuses on electoral technology


ukThe UK carried out general elections last May 7th. Beyond the easy victory of the Conservative Party, which smashed the surveys indicating a technical tie, the event offered the British important bases to mull over electoral technology.

In principle, one of the great novelties of this election was the use of an online voter registry, used as an alternative to manual registration, which was also available. According to the Electoral Commission, citizens were able to access the system and fill out their data to enable themsleves as voters in just five minutes, instead of filling out a form and handing it over at the electoral body offices.

Upon revision of the initiative, it becomes evident that the registry was a positive step toward automating the different stages of the election, but it also left lessons on the need to implement controls providing full functional guarantees.

Looking at the acceptance rate of the new electronic mechanism, all reports mention an overwhelming preference for online registration versus manual registration: only on the last day, about half a million people visited the portal to formalize their registration, preferring it over the use of paper for the procedure. However, on election day there were regions in the UK where dozens of voters were unable to vote, as the system did not accept their online procedure as valid.

In Hackney, east of London, at least 100 people could not vote, although they had registered a week before the deadline. Authorities sustain that this was an isolated problem, but the fact is that the system presented problems that must be solved in order to strengthen and maintain this automated scheme, which promoted registry and participation.

In spite of this, the UK seems to be aware that electoral technology plays a transcendental role when it comes to offering better electoral guarantees. Various political and governmental spokespeople showed their support for the implementation of an electronic voting model, which allows for the correction of the flaws of manual voting, such as the ones that took place during this election.

At the end of the day, the WebRoots Democracy organization reported that after reviewing electoral data in 100 constituencies, it was detected that more than 4,000 ballots were rejected because voters had accidentally marked more than one candidate. Although this number of votes could be dismissed as it would not have any incidence on a national election, the truth is that in legislative or regional elections it could be decisive. Even in this case, an average of 42 ballots in the 100 constituencies were annulled due to confusion from the voters, the same number of votes by which conservative Amanda Solloway won in North Derby.

These problems, plus the need to modernize the electoral system, have caused the UK to focus its attention on technology. John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, has requested the promotion of online voting for the 2020 elections.

The road will require multiple analyses and tests, but the British have five years to eradicate their fears and doubts, and allow electoral automation to facilitate voting by avoiding the mistakes made by voters and shielding each stage of the process.

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