Opinion research done by BMRB for the Electoral Commission concerning attitudes surrounding the 2006 electoral pilots makes for interesting reading. The top reason for people possibly choosing not to vote in a pre-election survey: ‘disillusionment with politics, parties or the party system’. Post-election research showed that:
Although, practical reasons for non-voting were given in some instances, such as being out of town, working late or being ill on polling day, they were usually said to work in tandem with other barriers, such as political disillusionment, and were not usually seen as sufficient to act as a barrier on their own. Furthermore, practical barriers were not thought to have a prolonged impact on voting behaviour, that is, they did not result in persistent non-voting over a number of elections.
Three key barriers to voting were highlighted as:
- Lack of political understanding and knowledge;
- Disillusionment and scepticism of contemporary politics
- Party stronghold (thinking the result is a a dead cert).
So again Electoral Commission research shows that overall, while people do cite practical difficulties as part of the reason why they don’t vote, there are deeper reasons that stop people from voting and so technical quick-fixes like e-voting are not going to make a significant difference to e-voting.
It’s interesting to look back to section 9.3 of a 2002 BMRB report for the Department for Transport, Local Government & Regions on e-voting where turnout was discussed:
The implementation of electronic voting was felt to have a limited influence in connection with increasing turnout. In a small number of cases non-voters felt that the idea that electronic voting would increase turnout was insulting.
‘Surely, they’ve only got to look at themselves to say “hey, maybe it’s me”. They don’t think it’s them. They just think it’s because we’re too lazy to go and vote.’
Government sponsored reports, let alone others from people like myself, have been saying for years that e-voting won’t boost turnout significantly. They knew it in 2002, in 2006 and now.
The 2006 report also has an interesting chart that shows the priorities of public opinion (as sampled) for the voting process. Top priority was voting being secret (29%) and second was their vote being safe from fraud or abuse (26%). Then came choice of voting methods followed by convenience at 16% each then ease of voting (10%). So the top two priorities outweigh the next three by a 13% margin. From 2003 to 2006 the proportion of people who would prefer to vote from a polling station has risen 54.5% from 33% (2003) to 51% (2006). Furthermore 97% of voters in May 2006 rated polling station voting as easy to do, 97% rated polling station voting as convenient and 96% rated polling station privacy as good. It doesn’t sound like people are clamoring for methods of voting that replace the polling station at the risk of election integrity.
Indeed 43% of respondents to a pre-election 2006 survey felt that postal voting was unsafe. After the local elections 24% felt that electoral fraud had been a very or fairly big problem. 51% said fraud hadn’t been a problem and 21% didn’t know. This is extraordinary – a quarter of respondents felt that electoral fraud had been a major problem, that’s a huge chunk of people with little faith in the accuracy of our electoral system.
There’s no doubt about it, the public want vote secrecy and security ahead of convenience. Yet the 2007 pilots appear to reverse those priorities risking the secrecy and security for a bit more convenience – why and for who?