The uptake of Internet voting for local government elections is still in its infancy worldwide. While it holds many potential benefits, there are various factors which can influence its uptake. This chapter explores the sociological factors which affect voter participation in Internet voting. It identifies 5 main influential factors, or groups of factors: trust; apathy; features of the Internet; access; and socio-technical aspects. Each is explored and ways in which each can be addressed in order to ensure optimal participation are discussed. A model conceptualizing the relative influence of these sociological factors is proposed and, finally, suggestions are made for future research.
To vote has been succinctly defined as “to express one’s preference” (Morris, 1970, p. 1437). Voting has become an essential way for democratic societies to elect their governments. However, throughout the democratic world, there has been a particularly low voter turnout. While turnout rose globally between 1945 and 1990, since the 68% average high in the 1980s, the percentage has dropped to 64%. Local government election turnout has been even lower. In some areas a 20 to 50% participation rate has become the norm (Internet Policy Institute (IPI), 2001, p. 25). This lowers democracy, diminishes trust and public confidence in government (Armacost et al., 2000, p. 14), and calls into question the legitimacy of and the mandate given to the representatives (Clarke, 2002, p. 13).
In order to increase voter participation, and to meet the needs of different groups of voters, the method of voting has expanded to include postal voting, and more recently, I-voting.
I-voting can be regarded as a subset of e-voting as it is limited to casting electronic votes via the Internet only (Smith & Clark, 2005). While e-voting deals with the technologies that minimize the human aspect of vote collection and recording, I-voting is “the use of online information gathering and retrieval technologies to expand the reach and range of the potential voting population” (Smith & Clark, 2005). I-voting is thus dependent on the technological elements of e-voting. However, this chapter excludes the concept of e-voting in polling booths because while it may technically occur over the Internet, the social aspects of such voting are different to those encountered when voting from other places.