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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 21 May, 2002, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
'Postal-only election by 2004'
E-voting being tested
The local polls saw various methods trialled
All votes could be cast by post in a nationwide poll for the first time in the 2004 European elections, Stephen Byers has hinted.

The transport and local government secretary's comments came after all-postal ballots were trialled in some councils in this month's local elections.

Local elections turnout
Postal voting +28%
E-voting +5%
Online voting +1%
No experiment +4%
Those experiments were hailed as a success when they boosted turnout by an average of 28% in the areas they were used.

Now the Electoral Commission is checking the trials for signs of fraud or other disadvantages before the system is considered for any national poll.

Mr Byers told MPs on Tuesday: "Once again, we should use May 2003 and the local elections to have further pilots.

"Then we might be in a situation sometime in 2004, perhaps for the European elections in June, to have a national postal ballot at that time."

Privacy fears

The minister said caution was needed in the speed at which such systems were introduced.

Using all-postal ballots for next year's Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections would be pressing ahead too fast, said Mr Byers.


Won't you accept voter apathy stems from the arrogance of the government, people's contempt for spin

Theresa May
Tory spokeswoman
The Electoral Commission's report on the local elections trials is due out in August and that will give a more detailed view of the experiments' success.

Mr Byers' Tory counterpart Theresa May said: "You claim postal ballots as one of your successes.

"But won't you accept voter apathy stems from the arrogance of the government, people's contempt for spin and their distrust of politicians who fail to deliver on the issues that matter to them, like transport."

Conservative MP Julian Lewis warned all-postal ballots could leave people without the privacy they wanted for voting.

Postal voting was among a raft of measures tried out to make it easier for people to cast their vote.

Online voting was less of a success, producing just a 1% increase in turnout.

Overall turnout was up about 4% on the 2000 local elections.

New methods

The all-postal vote in Stevenage Borough saw 52.9% of the electorate taking up their democratic right to vote, compared with 29% in 2000.

And turnout in the all-postal ballot at Havering Borough, east London, was 46%.

Tests of new technologies and voting methods took place in 30 towns.

Areas where no experimental voting had taken place, saw a 5% increase in turnout.

This reversed the steady decline over recent years.

The unexpected increase in turnout in 2002 follows one of the most high-profile local election campaigns in recent years.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Richard Bilton
reports on new voting methods

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See also:

07 May 02 | UK Politics
05 Feb 02 | UK Politics
05 Feb 02 | UK Politics
07 Jan 02 | dot life
28 Mar 01 | UK Politics
19 Mar 01 | UK Politics
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