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Monday, 8 April, 2002, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
E-voting put to the test
E-voting being tested
Voters in St Albans test the touchscreen system
An ambitious electronic voting scheme will be tested in St Albans during the forthcoming local elections in the UK.

Up to 10,000 St Albans residents will be able to cast their vote via the internet, telephone or touchscreen kiosks in supermarkets and polling stations.

The trial is being conducted to see if more people vote when they have more ways to do it.

Tests of other technologies and voting methods are being tried out in 29 other towns at the same time as the St Albans trial.

Name and number

The e-voting trial is taking place in two of the 20 St Albans wards due to vote in the 2002 local elections.

"It's worrying that there's so much apathy in this country

Lyndsey Carter, St Albans voter
St Albans District Council has set the technology the modest target of raising turnout by 4% in the Verulam and Sopwell wards.

The Sopwell ward has a large Bangladeshi population and it is hoped the trial will attract voters from this community.

Closer to the official polling period for the local elections, electors will be issued with a multi-digit voter identification number and, separately, a four-digit personal identification number.

On voting day the combination of voter and personal ID number will be used to identify voters and try to ensure that voters only vote once.

Councillor Julian Daly said the chance to vote via the net could be very important to many St Albans citizens because 60% of the city's working population commutes out of the district to their place of employment.

Voters in the two wards who travel to polling stations will only be able to use the touchscreen voting kiosks. One polling station will be at the Sainsbury's superstore in the Verulam ward that will let people vote as they shop.

Crash protection

To encourage participation the period during which St Albans voters can cast their votes between 25 and 27 April. This is earlier and for longer than the rest of the country, which goes to the polls on 2 May.

"The extended voting period is to do with making it more accessible, not just in case the system crashes every time it is used," said Mr Daly.

He added that the trial is very much an experiment to test the technology and see which one voters like most.

St Albans cathedral, PA
Historic town will host historic voting test
With research suggesting that 75% of people would be more likely to vote if they could do so online, it is hoped the pilots will signal a changing in the way that people vote.

St Albans resident Lyndsey Carter who had a test drive of the kiosk hoped that it succeeded in its aim of producing a better turnout.

"It's worrying that there's so much apathy in this country," she said.

But she said the council should do more to take the technology to the voters.

"It needs to be everywhere not just in specific places," she said, "otherwise it's just going to be like the old polling stations."

The St Albans scheme is the most sophisticated of the pilots because it involves so many novel voting systems.

Parts of Liverpool and Sheffield are to test e-voting including mobile phone text messaging and using local digital television.

Parts of Crewe and Nantwich, St Albans and Swindon are trying internet voting from home, local libraries and council-run information kiosks.

Gateshead, North Tyneside, Stevenage and Chorley are testing all-postal ballots.

Caution urged

The London boroughs of Camden and Wandsworth, as well as Chester, Rugby and Broxbourne are trying electronic counting, early voting and extended polling hours.

The Electoral Reform Society has backed new voting schemes but urged caution over security before holding large-scale online elections.

The first binding political internet voting was in the Democratic primaries in Arizona in March 2000.

That experiment saw turnout jump by 676%, although only 41% of those voting did so from remote internet sites.

Opponents of online voting argue that it is too easily exploited by electoral fraudsters and discriminates against those without internet access or who are not computer-literate.

See also:

05 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Text message voting to be trialled
05 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Online voting fraud warning
05 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Big Brother chief's voter advice
05 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Allow voting at 16 - Kennedy
07 Jan 02 | dot life
E-voting: A load of old ballots?
28 Mar 01 | UK Politics
No votes for net elections
19 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Only the net can save politics
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