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Last Updated: Friday, 2 May, 2003, 10:19 GMT 11:19 UK
E-voting fails to stir the public
E-voting can be done in a variety of ways
Most of those who voted did so on foot

Electronic voting has failed to make much of an impact on turnout in the local elections.

Turnout nationally was marginally up on the 32% of last year to 37%, with areas offering low-tech postal voting showing the most promising signs of increasing voter interest.

A total of 17 local authorities offered e-voting facilities to up to 1.9 million voters, via internet kiosks, home computers, text message and digital TV.

Vale Royal and Shrewsbury saw significant increases in voter turnout as a result of e-voting but in the other areas the impact was negligible.

E-voting is part of a UK Government effort to get more people to using the ballot box, especially the young who traditionally shun local polls.

Glitches

The next stage will be to find out whether e-voting recruited new people or just offered existing voters a new way to vote,
Naomi Harford, Athena Consortium

To ensure people only voted once, people were issued with both a ballot number and a PIN number.

But the technology was not always water-tight.

In St Albans, problems with BT's installation and connectivity of PCs in polling booths meant returning officers had to abandon machines for the more old-fashioned paper checks.

Similar problems occurred in Sheffield.

Despite the glitches, Returning Officer for St Albans Mike Lovelady said he was confident that e-voting made a difference.

"Turnout here was actually up 5% to 43% which is against the national trend," he said.

"It indicated that increased voter choice did have an effect on increasing voter turnout," he added.

In Swindon, e-voting was also hailed as a success with a 75% rise in the number of people using the facility.

Last year, 6,000 people used their telephone or internet connection to register their vote. This year the numbers rose to 11,000.

The majority of Swindon's e-voters did so via their home internet connection, with just 163 using the kiosks that are dotted around the town.

Digital TV, the latest recruit to the e-voting revolution, only attracted 339 of Swindon's voters.

In neighbouring Stroud, 7% of voters (4,294 people) shirked the traditional ballot box in favour of an e-vote.

Paper trail

It is always a bad idea to look for technical fixes to social problems
Ross Anderson, FIPR

"E-voting has been fantastically successful," said Naomi Harford, who works for the Athena Consortium, a group of companies that implemented e-voting systems across several UK councils.

"The next stage will be to find out whether e-voting recruited new people or just offered existing voters a new way to vote," she added.

Not everyone is convinced by the benefits of e-voting.

Technology think-tank, the Foundation for Information Policy Research, (FIPR), said public confidence in the electoral process could be severely damaged if electronic voting systems used in the local elections went nationwide.

Votes cast from telephones and home PCs do not leave a paper trail, should any verification of the process be necessary after the elections.

"Without these precautions, it will be impossible to prove afterwards that an election was carried out correctly. If problems occur, levels of public mistrust could make Florida voters' worries about "hanging chad" look trivial," said FIPR in a statement.

There are also concerns that the government is simply throwing technology at a problem that has a very different root cause.

"It is always a bad idea to look for technical fixes to social problems. Election turnout would be increased if citizens were convinced that their vote would make a difference," said FIPR chairman Dr Ross Anderson.

"Simply computerising the current system is unlikely to achieve this," he added.




SEE ALSO:
Voters 'keen on e-election'
29 Apr 03  |  Politics
Will ballot trials woo back voters?
25 Apr 03  |  Politics
Mobile phone text voting pioneered
28 Mar 03  |  England
Digital voting to fight apathy
10 Mar 03  |  England


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