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Tuesday, 5 February, 2002, 11:40 GMT
Online voting fraud warning
Graphic, BBC
Online voting schemes should be tested much more thoroughly before being rolled out for UK-wide elections, says a new report from an influential think tank.

The findings of the report, drawn up for the Electoral Reform Society, come as Local Government and Regions Secretary Stephen Byers prepares to announce a series of schemes to pilot new voting systems.


Let us look piece by piece at how elections work and how we can make them more convenient to people's lifestyles

Stephen Coleman
Commission chairman
Commons Leader Robin Cook has said he wants the UK to become the first country in the world to use the internet for voting, perhaps as soon as the next general election.

The independent commission set up by the ERS cautions against rushing into such change and recommends tight safeguards to prevent ballot fraud.

'Public confidence first'

Stephen Coleman, who chaired the inquiry, said: "This commission has taken a long, cool, calm look at a range of alternative methods of voting and wants to see a gradual approach to testing and implementing them.

Robin Cook
Robin Cook wants the UK to be trialled this year
"Let us look piece by piece at how elections work and how we can make them more convenient to people's lifestyles."

Dr Coleman said public confidence in the electoral process had to be top of the agenda in examining new voting methods.

The commission's full report, entitled "Elections in the 21st century: from paper ballot to e-voting", is published on Tuesday.

Its main recommendations are:

  • Establishing a technology task force before any online pilots begin to assess and challenge the system

  • Using elector cards with PIN numbers in telephone and online voting to prevent fraud

  • Requiring extra information, such as dates of birth, to be listed on electoral registration forms to limit postal voting fraud

  • Extending experiments for all-postal ballots, telephone voting and electronic voting/counting to some European regions and parliamentary by-elections before considering them for national use
It comes in the wake of the low turnout at last year's general election, which dipped below 60%.

Local pilots

That prompted more debate about how voting could be better tailored to people's lifestyles.

But, with concern already evident over low turnouts in local elections, the 2000 Representation of the People Act had already allowed local councils to apply to run pilot schemes.

Elections minister Nick Raynsford last month named the 41 local authorities that had applied - with more than half of the bids including some kind of electronic voting or counting.

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 it is too easily exploited by electoral fraudsters and also discriminates against who are not computer literate or who cannot access the internet.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rory McClean
"Various methods to boost turn-out have already been tried"
See also:

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
16 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
The dangers of digital democracy
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