Usefulness, Integrity, and Perceptions of Virtue in Voting: The Links between Young People’s Online Voting Experiences, Beliefs about Voting, and Support for Online Voting in National Elections

Nicholas Hatton

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Abstract

Online voting is widely used for binding non-governmental elections across the United Kingdom, including in higher education student union elections. For 2.3 million 18-24 year olds, Student Union elections are their first opportunity to vote in a binding election using the internet. Despite the technology’s prevalence in higher education, very little is known about the moderating effects of this experience on young peoples’ attitude towards online voting in national elections. This prompts the question: Does experience of online voting in low-risk elections have an effect on support for the technology in high-risk contexts, such as national elections, where the consequences of technical failures are much greater? This project also examines the changing priorities of UK electoral law, and why it has fallen short of introducing online voting in spite of the priority given to voter convenience in the recent past.

Part one examines the compatibility of internet voting with the priorities of UK election law and the election procedures arising from the law. Through Hansard transcripts, Government statutes, and court records, part one highlights the tension between transparency, secrecy and security procedures and procedures which emphasise voter convenience and the accessibility of elections. The environment created by these conflicting procedures is not automatically conducive to the use of internet voting, despite some accommodating elements. The recent move towards greater barriers to voting and the immediate transparency of the election count pose a high bar for the introduction of internet voting. The largely additive nature of UK election legislating also serves to complicate the UK’s body of election law, resulting in a chimera of incongruous procedures and priorities.
Part two explores the online voting experiences of 18-24 year olds and the role of experience as a variable which may reinforce support for online voting in national elections. Using a combination of survey and interview data, the study finds significant correlations between salient beliefs about online voting and support for online voting in national elections. However, the study does not find a significant link between the quantity of experience of online voting and increased support for the technology in national elections. This may be because 18-24 year olds are already well acclimated to the online world. Experience of online voting does not foster increased levels of trust in the technology, but there is evidence for a significant relationship between experience levels and beliefs about the usefulness of online voting. Greater levels of experience also correlate with opposition to anti-convenience beliefs.

The findings of this thesis have implications for the study of trust in voting technology and how anti-convenience beliefs may be affected by experience. Increasing trust in online voting remains a difficult task as young people remain ambivalent about online security, but reducing anti-convenience opposition to online voting may be possible with a normalisation of the technology through its regular use in low-level elections. For future studies, the indication that experience may reduce anti-voting convenience beliefs could be further explored with a larger sample size. At the level of electoral legislating, this study recommends a public consultation on whether the voting ritual has an intrinsic value and a solicitation of views on what online voting ‘ought to be’. This should occur prior to the passage of any online voting legislation in order to build consensus around the technology and avoid undermining trust in the electoral system.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationPh.D.
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Smets, Kaat, Supervisor
  • Jago, Robert, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Aug 2023
Publication statusUnpublished - 2023

Keywords

  • e-voting
  • online voting
  • internet voting
  • RE-voting
  • youth voting
  • youth participation
  • virtue of voting
  • voter engagement
  • student union
  • electronic voting
  • voter participation
  • electoral law
  • election law

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