Will New Technology Boost Turnout? Evaluating Experiments in E-Voting V. All-Postal Voting Facilities in UK Local Elections

29 Pages Posted: 15 Sep 2003

See all articles by Pippa Norris

Pippa Norris

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS); University of Sydney

Date Written: August 2003


Proponents argue that using technology to modernize the process of casting a ballot, especially the implementation of remote electronic voting (e-voting), could boost electoral participation. E-voting is thought to be a particularly important reform designed to encourage turnout among younger people.

Evidence to evaluate this claim is available from experiments conducted by the UK Electoral Commission using pilot schemes available to over six million citizens in 59 different English local government districts during the 1st May 2003 local government elections. These contests are characteristically low-salience events where only a third of the electorate usually cast a ballot. The pilot schemes provide an exceptionally good test of the effects of modernizing electoral administration and voting facilities, as the public in each district cast legal votes in an official contest. The pilots experimented with alternative ways of facilitating remote electronic voting, including use of the Internet from home and public access sites, interactive digital television, SMS text messaging, and touch-tone telephones. Pilots also used all-postal ballots, getting electronic information to voters, and extended voting periods. For comparison, in the remaining areas the public cast a traditional in-person vote by marking crosses on standard paper ballots in local polling stations.

The evidence from the aggregate results, and from the post-election survey, confirms that the use of all-postal voting facilities had a significant impact in strengthening turnout by about 15% on average, as well as improving public satisfaction with the electoral process. Yet claims that remote electronic voting can automatically resuscitate electoral participation should be regarded with considerable skepticism: pilots using remote e-voting combined with traditional polling stations, but without all-postal ballots, proved ineffective in improving overall turnout. The main reason is that all-postal ballots had their most significant impact upon improving voting participation among the older generation, who were already most motivated to vote. In this regard, the simple Victorian postage stamp beats the high-tech microchip hands down.

Keywords: Electoral Politics, Information Technology, Political Science

Suggested Citation

Norris, Pippa, Will New Technology Boost Turnout? Evaluating Experiments in E-Voting V. All-Postal Voting Facilities in UK Local Elections (August 2003). KSG Working Papers Series No. RWP03-034. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=437140 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.437140

Pippa Norris (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-1475 (Phone)
617-496-2850 (Fax)

University of Sydney ( email )

University of Sydney
Sydney, NC NSW 2006

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