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The University of Southampton
Public Policy|Southampton

Digitising democracy: crises, integrity, support & trust


This project seeks to inform policymakers regarding the desirability of electronic voting (e-voting) amongst the public and what features of digitising the electoral processes hinder or support trust in modernising and digitising democratic participation.

The utility of e-voting has been demonstrated most acutely during the events of the Covid-19 pandemic which have shaped every aspect of our lives for the last two years. The pandemic constituted an unpredictable external shock that has damaged the social stability of many countries. It also forced electoral authorities in many states to postpone elections. Between February 2020 and November 2021, at least seventy-nine countries postponed elections due to COVID-19. In those states where elections did go ahead, emergency reforms were implemented including, i) the suspension of voting rights for those infected with the virus, and ii) the adaption of new postal or e-voting methods.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted a need for the development of digital civic societies. Can the digital landscape provide a solution to democratic disengagement via e-voting? Some countries have already implemented successful digitisation strategies for elections. Estonia, for example, has proved an e-voting model can safeguard the democratic process, increasing electoral integrity and protesting democracy from crises-induced suspensions. Where other countries have failed to innovate, they have either sen millions robbed of their right to vote, or observed citizens take part at great personal risk.

A rich body of evidence shows that policies that successfully reduce the “costs” of voting – e.g., liberalising postal voting rules – significantly increase participation. This is especially the case among marginalised groups who, for a variety of reasons, face higher barriers to participation. Implementing e-voting has the potential to provide a dual remedial function: i) it can safeguard the democratic process from external shocks, and ii) can also serve to tackle electoral inequality.

Given advances in cyber security, the proliferation of verifiable e-signatures, and the development of blockchain technology, the present-day viability of e-voting is great.

In this project I ask:
I) do citizens support the idea of digitising the electoral process?
II) what policy attributes (e.g., process/cost/security/etc) drive or hinder support for electronic voting?
III) are voters more trusting of digital voting?

To answer these questions, I would field an embedded conjoint experiment (a method that allows identification of the influence of concrete policy attributes) into panel surveys fielded by YouGov among a representative sample of individuals from 2/3 countries (cost based on £2k/country).


The planned outputs of the project are threefold.

First – Public communication
- In order to provide maximum dissemination potential for the findings, upon completion of the data analysis I would create two pieces of output for immediate public consumption.
The first output would be a short 4/5-minute video abstract that I would create in collaboration with a local media company. The video would summarise the arguments behind moving towards digitised voting, highlight those cases where it is implemented successfully, and provide an easily digestible message on the findings from the experimental test of “what voters want”.

The second output would be a series of accessible blog-pieces written for some of the widely read online platforms (target outlets include “The Conversation”; “The Washington Post”, “”) where I have experience communicating research to layperson audiences.

Second – Elite communication
- A core objective of the project is to inform policymakers about the levels of public support for e-voting and the features of the process that the public are most concerned and/or enthused about. To that end, I will carry out activities to communicate the findings to this audience in collaboration with the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

First, I will host an online event where I will invite representatives from All-Party Parliamentary Group for Electoral Reform, individuals from leading charities involved in the electoral process (e.g., Electoral Reform Society, My Society), and representatives/experts from other countries where e-voting has been piloted during Covid-19. The aim of the event, which I would open to public registration, would be to share research findings, engage in networking activity, and develop opportunities for a wider research agenda.

Second, I will write a policy brief that sets out stakeholder priorities on the issue of e-voting and make a recommendation based both the existing practice of e-voting exercised outside the UK and on the original experimental evidence I gather as part of the project.

Third – peer-reviewed publication
- How individuals respond to experimental manipulations regarding policy reforms for e-voting has several theoretical implications for our understanding of political participation. Following the immediate dissemination of our findings, I will leverage the experimental results to redact a peer-reviewed article that can contribute to the wider academic discussion on how e-voting attitudes coalesce with wider arguments about who votes and why. This work will serve as a building block for future research given the little empirical knowledge we have about preferences towards digitising elections.



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