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Britain's Houses of Parliament are seen across the river Thames in London May 18, 2009.
Reuters/Stephen Hird
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DIGITAL DEMOCRACY

Plans are afoot to get British people voting online by 2020

By Cassie Werber

Most people in Britain know what parliament looks like. A very large, ornate, Gothic building on the Thames, with Big Ben stuck to one side, the Palace of Westminster (as the structure is officially known) is hard to miss. But what goes on inside is more of a mystery.

Enter the Digital Democracy Commission, which recently announced a set of goals. Top of the list: “By 2020, the House of Commons should ensure that everyone can understand what it does.”

Since only so many visitors can fit inside the actual chamber, the commission wants to create a more engaging, informative online presence for the country’s main legislative body. A first stab comes in the form of videos that feature graphics, voiceovers, and sometimes John Bercow—the head of the Commission and former speaker of the House of Commons, a role that includes calling rowdy MPs to “order.”

Other goals are more radical. By 2020, the commission also wants “secure online voting“ to be available to every citizen. This would be a major departure from the low-tech, paper-based system today.

A switch to online voting is fraught with problems. No system has been developed that ”removes all the risks open to it,” says Carl Miller, research director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at think-tank Demos. He told Quartz that those risks include “human-level” problems that have always dogged electoral processes, like fraud and identity theft, as well as “system-wide” threats in which attempts are are made to disrupt or manipulate the overall tally.

But if Mongolia can experiment with voting by text, why not Britain too? Online or mobile voting is “probably inevitable,” Miller says.

Every Facebook user in the UK will be reminded of their civic duty today, with reminders to register to vote popping up in their feeds. Users can list their registration as a “life event” alongside graduating or getting married.