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Can sms improve electoral voting?

The current voting process has hardly changed since the beginning of time (or at least since 1832 in the UK). On Thursday 7 May 2015, there’s three options for placing your vote: in person at a polling station, by post or by choosing someone to vote on your behalf (by proxy). But it could be argued that one of the methods of significantly increasing participation is literally in the palm of our hands.


Having worked with the humble text message for the past 5 years, I appreciate its appeal to the mass market and that with the appropriate security checks in place, there’s no reason why SMS couldn’t be used as a voting mechanism in politics, in the same way it is for so many other things. With 93% of UK adults now owning mobile phones, SMS voting would without doubt allow more people to vote via the convenience of SMS. This would mean those of us without a car, on holiday, or too busy at work, would be able to have our say, adding an unparalleled layer of accessibility on voting day. Furthermore, SMS could be more of a secure option than current voting methods and anyone registered to vote via SMS could opt-in to receive reminders if they hadn’t yet voted, this would without doubt increase participation from its current rate of 65.1%.


Selecting SMS with the Electoral Commission: This could work in the same way as a postal registration, where you’d select the SMS option when the Electoral Commission contact you but provide your mobile phone number rather than address. Alternatively or in addition to this, you could text into a shortcode automatically registering your mobile number.

Security of SMS voting: Voting via SMS could be more secure and reliable than the current postal option. Voters could be sent a unique pin in addition to their electoral reference number when voting via SMS. Once their MSISDN (the telephone number to the SIM card in a mobile phone) has been logged as voted, they would be unable to re-vote or change their minds – exactly the same as when visiting a polling booth; the only difference being the improved experience.

Voting via SMS: On voting day, a text message could be sent to anyone that had chosen to vote via SMS, letting them know that the polls were open and that they could vote between 7.00am and 10.00pm that day. Anyone who had not voted by 6.00pm could be sent a reminder and a final reminder at 8.00pm to anyone who had still not voted. An example of personalising someone’s experience based on their behaviour, something Marketers are beginning to do very well but why isn’t the Government?

Collating SMS votes: Unlike counting paper votes which take hours, the SMS votes can be counted in real time with a running tally. This means that when the voting closes at 10.00pm, the registered votes would be ready immediately.

Rules: As with any voting method, there are some obvious rules that need to be adhered to when voting via SMS. –   Voters that change mobile phone numbers, would be required to notify the Electoral Commission; just as they would if they’d moved house. (Having said that, in the past 10 years I’ve moved house more times than I’ve changed mobile phone numbers). –   Voters would have to ensure that measures were taken to allow them to vote from the MSISDN they had registered, such as ample charge on the battery, available credit and a mobile phone capable of sending SMS – all basic requirements. And so to conclude; I truly believe the UK Government could really benefit from upgrading the archaic methods of voting to a mobile friendly approach. I’m sure too that the British public would welcome a more convenient method of voting, one that fits into their busy lifestyles.

But what do you think?

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