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Europe Dabbles in Election Tech, But Selfies Are Expressly Banned

A few digital firsts are seeping into the UK's European elections this week.
Image: Flickr/Matt

On Thursday, UK voters will go to the polls to vote in the 2014 European elections and decide who should represent them in the European Parliament. While there won’t be anything as technologically advanced as e-voting, this year the digital world is starting to seep into the paper-based ballot system in a few new ways.

Facebook just announced that it will roll out its “I’m a Voter” button to the UK in time for Thursday’s election, according to the Telegraph, following its use during the recent elections in India and the 2012 US presidential elections.


It will also be rolled out in other countries world wide, with Facebook reportedly expecting the button to pop up in 400 million people’s news feeds this year. Say what you will about clicktivism, but a study around the 2010 US Congressional election that used a similar Facebook button (though with the important addition of friends’ photos) suggested it got 60,000 extra people to vote.

The European Parliament is getting in on the game itself with a few Facebook apps, one of which has apparently seen more than 18,000 people click on a recipe for a traditional Lithuanian cold beetroot soup. Whatever gets people engaged, I guess.

But while social media has been shown to improve voting rates, it can’t necessarily give a good idea of different parties’ performance. The chatter on Twitter, for instance, doesn’t necessarily represent party popularity: Media network EurActiv highlighted an interesting study recently that showed eurosceptic leaders get mentioned the most in tweets, presumably because more radical views rouse more of a response from either side, and simply fit better into 140 characters.

On to a different kind of digital button, this year is the first time a QR code has made it onto a UK ballot paper, in the form of new party YOURvoice’s emblem, which contains a link to the party website. QR codes might be old news by now, but party founder Julian James assured me they’ve already seen traffic to their site from the code, which is intended mainly to help inform postal voters.


“It seemed to be a good mechanism of putting the information in front of people where they needed it most, which is where they were actually thinking about who they were going to vote for,” he said. While people could technically use their QR codes in the polling booth, James said he didn’t expect many to at that point as they would have likely already decided who they were voting for.

The party itself (which is very new, standing in just one region with three candidates) aspires to a kind of e-voting system, which James explained to me would work like their own secure social media-style platform in allowing people to discuss European issues and vote directly on them to inform the action taken by their MEP. “The principle is that people will be able to dictate or influence how we represent them on legislative proposals in the European Parliament,” said James.

That kind of e-voting is a way off for now (and won’t be helped by the recent scandal over alleged security issues in Estonia’s e-voting system for their part in the same European elections), and it’s safe to say British elections are still quite wary on the technological front. For one, they’re not down with the selfie trend.

Though it’s acceptable to get your phone out while voting, the Electoral Commission has expressly advised against allowing selfies in polling stations. “The law relating to obtaining information in polling stations and disclosing such information is complex,” the commission wrote. “Given the risk that someone taking a photo inside a polling station may be in breach of the law, whether intentionally or not, our advice is that you should not allow photos to be taken inside polling stations.”

You'll just have to save them for more appropriate places like, you know, in front of homeless people or mid-transit. Or preferably not.