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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK
Can a text message save democracy?
Elsewhere, alternative methods of voting are being road-tested, from postal-only votes in Hackney to electronic kiosks in St Albans and Stratford-upon-Avon.
The aim is get more people to have their say, there having been some evidence that it's less apathy than inconvenience that keeps voters away.
The plan is to get online voting in place for the 2006 General Election. Yet if it turns out to be open to abuse - or suffer some large-scale technical glitch - voters will be suspicious of using alternative methods to cast their ballots.
And there are concerns that e-voting will undermine the democratic process, making people think it is no more important than picking their favourite Pop Idol.
Apathy in the UK
Stephen Coleman, director of the Hansard Society's e-democracy programme and chair of a government commission looking into net voting, says there is no reason why an easy vote is any less valid.
"The idea that you can't be a good democrat without trudging down to the polling booth in driving rain is a fallacy. Someone sitting in front of their computer having a good think is just as serious. It's the thought that goes into it that counts."
International experience shows that where there is postal voting; where there is compulsory voting; and where this is proportional representation, more people turn out to cast a ballot.
Where the UK does fail its voters, Dr Coleman says, is in the level of political debate and involvement. Our politicians just don't connect with the people who vote them into - or out of - power.
Chris Quigley, whose company Spinon has got together with election.com to put together online guides to e-voting for Sheffield and Liverpool, says new polling methods will bring would-be non-voters to the ballot box.
"We realised that not only were young people (the age group least likely to go to the polls) interested in what we were doing, we could do something good with it. Once we'd sucked them in with humour, we then provided links to more information about politics."
This year, however, they have been brought into the fold to work on the £4.1m pilot scheme.
"Because this is a government project, we couldn't mention anything about politics on the sites. So instead we are trying to engage people in the e-voting process by emphasising that it is easy to vote, and relevant to their lifestyles."
Mr Quigley says those who think e-voting will trivialise the democratic process underestimate the electorate.
"People are responsible. To cast a vote by text message you do need to get your voting card out and make an informed decision. It's not something you do on a whim at the pub."
Would you be more likely to vote if you could do it by phone or over the internet? And is our interest in politics in terminal decline? Let us know using the form below.
Every Monday Dot.life looks at how technology has changed our lives, and more importantly how we would like to change our lives. Let us know your views, also using the form below.
Here's some of your comments so far:
Having polling stations in local supermarkets and changing polling day from Thursday to Sunday should see a dramatic increase in voting.
If you can't be bothered to vote then don't complain about what you get. If you don't see a politician supporting your beliefs then don't whinge, but get up and stand for them yourself.
Decline in voter interest has coincided with the increasing power of unelected EEC officials over our lives. When so much is manifestly decided by people we can't vote out, what's the point of voting?
While I am all in favour of anything that makes it easier for people to vote, we need to make sure that all votes count. And that means some form of proportional representation.
Tara Elliott, London
The only way I can see to cure this would be to make it compulsory to vote - this could be a real option, with an abstaining tick box on the voting slip to accommodate all views.
I live in Swindon, one of the cities where you can vote online. I already voted, something I might not have done otherwise. Worked very well and my friends and relatives in Germany were impressed. Now I hope the right to vote for foreigners will be extended to general elections - after all we pay the same taxes as everyone else and are impacted by what politicians decide the same way.
If these new schemes get the turn-out higher and are immune from abuse then why not? A government with less that 30% support from the population is WRONG!
Bruce Collie, Scotland
For local elections to be more effective, the local council must have more powers. Even if your local council is changed, will much really change when 85% of the cash comes from the centre and much of the direction as to how that cash is spent?
It will be interesting to see how the pattern of voting changes if electronic voting becomes commonplace. I expect the type of people who would only vote online might have different views to the voters who currently trudge off to their polling stations.
25 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Why local elections matter to us all
28 Mar 01 | UK Politics
No votes for net elections
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