Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Voting technology to modernize Parliament elections

Source: Google Images
Discussion on the use of electronic voting technology is usually in the context of the population at large heading to the polls in order to elect government officials. In 2014, technology will play an increasingly integral role in many elections around the world, including Brazil, Indonesia, Belgium and the United States. However, e-voting technology should not be restricted solely to the realm of public elections. The technology can be effectively adapted and used in all sorts of scenarios, even with government itself.

In a recent article in the Canadian magazine Maclean's, political expert Aaron Wherry asks why the elected Members of Parliament (MPs) do not vote electronically. This is a notion that was put forth by the McGrath committee in its second report (PDF link), stating that the current system of manual voting on the individual bills, amendments, clauses and other acts of government is a poor use of time and resources.

Under the current system, each individual Member of Parliament stands in turn to orally declare his or her vote on a particular motion. In order for the vote to count, the clerks have to read out each of their names. What this means is that a lot of time has to be spent, as each vote is read aloud individually and is cast individually.

If e-voting technology were to be adopted in the House of Commons, then the Members could simply cast their votes from their seats in the House. This could be done via a mobile application on their phones, through a secure terminal at their seat, or via any number of other possibilities. This way, all the votes can be cast within a few minutes and the results can not only be tabulated instantly by a computer, but they can be publicly displayed just as quickly.

This saves a lot of time, which should help to make governments more effective and efficient in doing the work that needs to be done. E-voting can also have an additional benefit.

With the current system of standing up and publicly declaring the vote, the Member is held individually accountable for his or her vote. There is value in that, but it also means that the Member will also feel a great deal of pressure to vote the same way as the rest of his or her party, even if he or she disagrees with that particular vote. Party politics play too large of a role.

James McGrath says that it is “awfully difficult to stand up and vote against your party knowing you’ve got the whip breathing down your neck.” Patrick Boyer, a former MP with the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada agrees: “I think electronic voting could overcome some of the institutional weight that is suppressing a lot of MPs. They talk about free votes in Parliament. Well, the real way to make that happen is to bring in electronic voting.”

If private e-voting technology is implemented, the true opinion and view of the Member of Parliament can be better reflected, as he or she won't feel the same kind of pressure to vote the same way as the rest of the party. A more accurate representation of the will of the people, by way of the voting of the Members, can be reflected. Even so, if this notion is a problem, the individual votes of Members can still be accurately recorded and open to public scrutiny if needed.

Government needs to continually modernize in order to best serve the needs of the people.