Executive summary of research project available here

Digitising the ballot box: a conjoint experiment on support for i-voting

Governments across the globe have been actively engaged in pilots aimed at testing voting via the internet (i-voting) using website platforms and smartphone applications.

The use of i-voting has been demonstrated acutely during the Covid-19 pandemic during which electoral authorities in many states postponed elections because of concerns around infection rates. i-voting innovations, such as those widely exercised in Estonia and recently trialled in countries as varied as Australia, Brazil, Canada, Norway, Mexico, Switzerland, the UK, and the US, represent a remedial policy that can protect against the suspension of democratic processes during such crises, and facilitate democratic involvement in `normal times’.

Public support for, and trust in, digitising the electoral process is fundamentally important for its implementation. What features of i-voting attract public support and inspire trustworthiness in its implementation? In this paper, we answer this using a pre-registered conjoint experiment fielded in the UK. We derive attributes from a comprehensive systematic review of existing literature and case studies of real pilots and implementation, which include: method, cost, security, expected benefits, accessibility, administrative oversight and private IT sector involvement.

Results show that one of the strongest determinants of support is that i-voting increases participation in socially deprived areas. Respondents also prefer implementation which has automatic registration, have been piloted in wealthy European countries, and allow voting online (rather than via SMS or phone). Whilst respondents penalise reforms that cost more, they don’t reward policies that reduce the costs of elections. Against pre-registered hypotheses, we do not find significant sub-group heterogeneity, for instance regarding partisanship, trust or (perceived) access to internet. Altogether, our results highlight features of i-voting that will be supported or opposed by the public, and that these beliefs are quite widespread.