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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 17 July, 2002, 10:23 GMT 11:23 UK
Analysis: Does e-voting work?
David Cowling

Among the millions who voted in the 2 May 2002 local elections there were some 15,000 who participated in the first ever experiment with voting via the internet, telephone or text messaging.

This was one of a variety of voting experiments conducted in about 30 local authorities across England designed to make voting easier and more accessible.

Experiments allowing e-voting outside the confines of the polling station were conducted by five councils, those in Crewe & Nantwich, Liverpool, St Albans, Sheffield and Swindon.

But only one, Swindon, offered e-voting to every elector (in the others, it was available in only two or three wards).

Overall, about one in four voters used e-voting in the experimental areas.

But there was no evidence that this new method increased the number of voters.

Surveys of internet voters were conducted by three of the councils and two of them also surveyed telephone and polling station voters.

Women voters

In broad terms, internet voters were more likely to be men than women, to be aged between 35-54, and to be middle class.

Landline telephone voters were overwhelmingly from the 45+ age group, working class and/or a homemaker or retired.

Polling booth
Will the polling booth ever be a thing of the past?
Polling station voters were marginally more likely to be women than men and overwhelmingly aged 45+.

The most comprehensive information came from the Swindon pilot (which accounted for 19 of the total 28 wards with e-voting experiments).

As the figures show there was definitely an age issue when it came to choosing how to vote.

Reverse image

One in four of all 18-24 year olds and almost one in five of those aged 25-44 used the internet to vote, compared with 3% of those aged 60+.


The evidence suggests that those who chose e-voting would still have voted even if polling stations had been the only option

The telephone was used by broadly one-in-twenty of all age groups.

Polling station voters provide the reverse image of the age profile of internet voters with the 3% of those aged 60+ casting their vote by internet, compared with 91% who voted in person.

When polling station voters were asked why they chose not to use the internet, half of them said they preferred voting in the traditional way and 20% said it was more convenient to vote that way.

And whereas one in ten expressed concern that internet voting would not guarantee the secrecy of their ballot, only one in forty confessed to being daunted by the technology.

Pressure

The Swindon surveys provided the only information on party voting within the different systems available.

These showed that whilst Labour was in comfortable second place among polling station and telephone voters, they fell to a narrow third place among internet voters.

The survey evidence suggests very strongly that those who chose e-voting this May would still have voted even if polling stations had been the only option.

But although e-voting did not increase turnout, the fact that so many voters in these pilot areas used the internet, telephone or text messaging will add pressure on the government to make such new voting systems widely available at future elections.

18-24 25-44 45-59 60+
% % % %
Internet 24.5 19.1 12.3 3.0
Telephone 4.9 4.1 5.3 5.7
Polling stations 70.6 76.8 82.4 91.3

See also:

08 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
07 Jan 02 | dot life
29 Apr 02 | dot life
07 May 02 | Politics

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