Parliamentarians across the country must use cell phones and computers to vote in a House of Commons debate in what is called a “historic first” for Parliament.
The government plans to use a debate this afternoon on the Covid-19 pandemic to conduct a live test of the remote voting technology developed by the Parliamentary Digital Service (PDS).
The move comes as the UK prepares for a long period of recovery from the coronavirus, with the death toll rising to 40,000 today.
The House of Commons has approved the technology, which replicates the current voting system of the divisions of municipalities as a temporary measure during the pandemic.
However, some Parliamentarians raised concerns on system security, which lacks biometric identification or fingerprints, potentially allowing parliamentarians’ wives, children or researchers to vote on legislation.
More than 600 MPs will use the system – the most significant change to the vote in Municipalities since 1863 – to vote after Covid-19’s debate this afternoon.
They will also vote on the renewal of hybrid voting procedures, which allow parliamentarians to vote remotely or in the House of Commons.
The rapporteur, Lindsay Hoyle, should move on to other activities to allow time for comparison of voting results, as counting takes longer than traditional voting procedures.
Municipalities introduced remote voting and video calls after over 100 deputies signed a letter written by About Onwurah asking Parliament to take a leading role in the use of digital technology for remote work during the pandemic.
Software engineers developed the technology to allow MPs to vote from home or on the go using a cell phone in four weeks.
The PDS has adapted the MemberHub website, which is used by members and their staff to present written questions and proposals, to allow Members to vote “Yes” or “No” following a division.
MEPs receive alerts via SMS or email when a division is about to take place. The PDS is also developing the ParliamentNow website to ring a division bell on any device running the website in the background.
The website aims to ensure that Members do not lose votes if, for example, they are making a phone call on the mobile phone they use to cast their vote.
The technology has gone through several test iterations, with software engineers working on weekends to overcome difficulties, for example to ensure that the system is compatible with Parliament’s network security.
MPs participated in the live tests on April 30, May 1 and May 4. The first live test identified a problem with Parliament’s firewall that prevented some MPs from accessing the system, which has now been resolved.
According to the PDS, a 3G mobile phone signal is sufficient to access the system.
Commons has created a fallback system that allows MPs who cannot get mobile or Internet access or face other technical problems, to send text messages or emails to a helpline, which will call them back to allow them to register your vote.
The staff of the Public Bill Office will check the votes for any anomalies before the results are transmitted to the President of the Chamber.
“Not optimal” safety can be used during the pandemic
The House of Commons changed its procedures on April 21 to allow parliamentarians to take part in questions to ministers, urgent questions and ministerial statements by videoconference or physical presence.
The loudspeaker has the power to suspend a remote division in case of technical problems or to order a vote to be rerun if it is interrupted by technical problems.
MPs use multi-factor authentication, a username and password to verify their identity on the voting system, which was developed with the advice of GCHQ.
The House of Commons records the IP address of each voter, but there are no geographical checks to ensure that the MP is in the United Kingdom.
Votes are encrypted and stored, so they can be checked with MPs if necessary.
The House of Commons procedure committee described the deal as “suboptimal” in a May 8 report, but found that the technology could be used to temporarily record MPs’ votes during the coronavirus pandemic.
In its report, the committee said that the system’s temporary purpose did not justify the extra work and cost of developing technologies that would require biometric or facial recognition that would work on a wide range of devices.
“The committee’s opinion on the suitability of the remote voting system on MemberHub is expressed on the basis that the system was designed for temporary use during the Covid pandemic and was not designed for permanent use,” he said.
The committee said significant additional resources and expenses would be needed if the House of Commons wanted a system that allows remote voting permanently and asked MPs to present evidence on the development of a permanent remote voting system.