Electronic voting could become a reality in industrial action ballots, after the government announced an independent review of the technology.
The review will examine possible risks, such as hacking or fraud, as well as potential impact on cases of intimidation of union members.
The review has been welcomed by political parties and unions.
It will be led by Sir Ken Knight, former chief fire and rescue adviser for England.
What is electronic voting?
Electronic voting means people can cast a ballot from a computer or smartphone, rather than having to go to a polling station or other venue to cast their vote.
A lot of entertainment formats use it, such as reality shows like Big Brother.
And a number of other organisations use it too, including the Conservative Party.
But there have been question marks over its security – hence the review.
Why is it being trialled with trade unions?
The debate has been rife in recent years when it comes to trade unions balloting their staff on strike action.
Earlier this year, the new Trade Union Act established that a vote in favour of industrial action requires a turnout of at least 50%, and that key public services need at least 40% of eligible members to back a strike for it to be a legitimate result.
The law also stated that these ballots had to be returned by post.
If electronic voting is introduced members will be able to vote online, which would be easier and could increase numbers.
Who supports it?
The review seems to be gathering support from all sides of the political spectrum.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, welcomed the news.
She said: “It is time to bring union balloting into the 21st Century and let members vote securely online.
“Allowing union members to vote online should be an uncontroversial move welcomed by anyone who values democracy.”
Business minister Margot James was less enthusiastic, but also backed the review.
She said: “The Trade Union Act ensures strikes will only ever happen as a result of a clear, positive decision by those entitled to vote.
“The Knight review will explore the issues and implications of allowing electronic voting in industrial action ballots and I look forward to reading his findings.”
While welcoming the review, Labour shadow business minister Jack Dromey said the government had “dragged its heels” over looking into electronic voting.
Is anyone against it?
Whilst politically there is widespread support for electronic voting, it has not always worked in practice.
Five local authorities in the UK tried pilots of electronic voting back in 2007, but there were issues with security and the transparency of the systems, so they were soon shelved.
Other countries, including Canada, Norway, Italy, France, Germany and Ireland, have all invested millions into trials, but the risks were deemed too big to continue.
Among security experts who have warned of the dangers is Jim Killock, the executive director of the Open Rights Group.
He told Computer Weekly: “The real driver of voter participation is the importance of elections and trust in politicians. You can’t solve those problems with technology.
“Electronic voting in national elections is an expensive and dangerous irrelevance.”
Could this lead to electronic voting in general elections?
While such a move has already been given some thought in Westminster, there remains a long way to go.
Commons Speaker John Bercow set up the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy in 2013, to consider a range of electronic projects – including electronic voting.
Among the recommendations in its report last year was a call for secure online voting to be an option for all voters by the general election of 2020.
The Electoral Commission has also been looking into “radical changes” for the voting system, including going down the electronic route, in recent years.
In a speech in 2014, Electoral Commission chairwoman Jenny Watson said: “We will of course need to consider carefully the balance between the security of the system as opposed to its accessibility. But as technology advances and society develops, this is not an issue that can stay on the slow track any longer.
“Whether it is the ability to register to vote on the day of the election or voters being able to use any polling station in their constituency, or the introduction of advance voting, or even more radical options such as e-voting, we plan to look at a variety of options, assessing how they will help citizens engage more effectively.”
But by the time of last year’s general election, little progress had been made.
Furthermore, the way elections are carried out is written in law so any changes would have to be brought before Parliament.
Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-37863745