Register voters online?

FOR those not in the know, the United Kingdom is in the midst of campaigning for its general election on June 8. And while most people are focused on the manifestos of the three major parties – Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats – something else piqued my interest.

A UK government website allows its citizens to register as voters. That's right. You can register as a voter in the UK by filling up an online form.

There is no need for an agency to open a booth in a mall, complete with photocopy machines.

No hassle of having to sign a form, have people ask you who to vote for, whether you want to back this political party or that one – nothing.

You read, select a few options regarding where you live, fill up your details, and such.

Now, can such a system be implemented in Malaysia?

I honestly don't see why not. After all, we can apply for credit cards online without having to go through the hassle of meeting the salesmen who waylay you while you are walking in a mall and offer you a stuffed Pokemon for submitting an application.

For example, CIMB through CIMB Clicks allows its customers to apply for its credit cards by filling up an online form, and getting an email with instructions to scan a few documents to complete the application.

Or as some may find, they will get a call from a CIMB representative telling them they do not have to go through such a hassle because they have a savings account with the bank which shows they are legible to receive a card.

So, I've given two examples of how a government of 70 million citizens can have an online facility to register voters, and a bank which allows eligible customers to apply for credit cards by filling up an online form.

Thus, my question: Why can't we register as voters online?

A while back, I raised this question when pointing out that you can even register to have your organs removed upon your death for transplants.

And yet, we still have made no initiative to have online voter registration?

Is it an issue of security, or perhaps we aren't too keen on people taking voting rights into their own hands? Or is it the fear of phantom voters which the system won't be able to weed out?

If it is the latter, then we already have that problem right now even without voter registration going digital and online.

In fact, wouldn't online registrations be an added layer of security to counter phantom voters since everyone would be required to provide photos of their ICs, and their registrations could be traced back to IP addresses worldwide?

The technology is there, and surely we have a commission which monitors Malaysians browsing the internet and acting on complaints against websites.

We are now in an age where we actually promote a digital economy, so why are we not promoting a similar stance when it comes to government? You can't have one without the other, and preferably you don't outsource this one.

Government should have the ability to manage more services online, and have such people within their organisation who can and will see where exactly services can be taken to reduce the burden on face-to-face interaction, and focus on efficiency.

Do people really need to go and renew their licences in person, or can they opt for automatic renewal plans which will just use an auto-debit function and backend updating of the smart card in the database?

In fact, can't we just have a two-week reminder when a passport is about to expire, opt for an online pay form, and have a new one sent to us by post?

This isn't actually innovative, seeing as how you should be able to do the same with your EPF and even paying your taxes.

I look forward to when National Higher Education Fund Corporation does the same for those applying for student loans, without needing to go through a middleman. Perhaps even venture so far to tell them to have an app for it which will allow students to gauge their loans and repayments without getting letters lost in the mail or ending up in an email junk box.

All of these are doable, so I have to wonder – what's stopping it from happening?

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: