Electronic voting is 'the future'
Turnout for the local elections was "disappointing" but the biggest ever test of new voting methods produced "encouraging" results, Local Government Minister Nick Raynsford has insisted.
All-postal voting in 33 council areas in England produced an overall turnout of 50% in those areas.
Turnout generally was around 37%.
Twenty percent of all votes were cast electronically for the first time.
Mr Raynsford said the results proved that e-voting - including text messaging, electronic kiosk, digital television, touchtone phone and the internet - "is the future".
Shrewsbury & Atcham Borough Council, which used the widest range of voting methods in the UK, has also hailed the experiment a success.
It shows that these innovative arrangements to make possible new ways of voting can make a real difference
The Tory-controlled council - which trialled everything except text messaging - recorded a turnout of 55%, compared with 41% last year.
Mr Raynsford said e-voting had contributed to some "very, very good turnouts".
But he admitted: "The overall turnout levels were disappointing, but in the areas where we piloted alternative methods of voting, there is some very good news.
"In 33 local council areas in England, all postal voting took place ... and the turn out in those areas was 50%, so very, very much higher than elsewhere.
"It shows that these innovative arrangements to make possible new ways of voting can make a real difference."
Mr Raynsford stressed that the government needed to ensure that there was no risk of fraud or the integrity of the ballot being compromised.
"This is biggest electronic test of new voting that has ever been done anywhere in the world so we are in a highly innovative frame in England," he said.
"There is no question that this is the future and we are going to draw on these pilots to refine the system and improve the technology and ensure that in the future it will be possible for people to use a range of methods to carry out their democratic rights."
For us seeing the technology in action it was absolutely breathtaking
Postal ballots in Shrewsbury & Atcham Borough Council proved the most popular voting channel - used by 80% of voters - out of an array of methods including electronic kiosk, digital television, touchtone phone and the internet.
Celia Bahrami, the council's assistant chief executive, said the trial "went absolutely brilliantly".
She was certain the increased turnout could be attributed to "the choice of voting channels", she said.
Out of the 20% who tried e-voting, 2,400 people used the internet, 1,227 used touchtone phones and 374 tried digital TV.
After polls closed at 9pm, e-counting brought the first result out at 10.10pm, with all the results out by 10.40pm.
Technically, it should be possible to have the first results within 10 or 20 minutes of the polls closing, said Mrs Bahrami.
Once you have tasted the cutting edge of technology, you don't really want to go back
"By yesterday, nearly 50% of our voters had registered their votes anyway, so on the last day it was relatively slow compared with a normal election.
"But we did have people still using the internet and phone voting right up to the polls closed at 9pm."
However, the technology did take the edge off a nail-biting finish at the final count.
"For the candidates it wasn't as exciting a night as it had been previously because they weren't physically watching people counting trays of votes," said Mrs Bahrami.
"But for us seeing the technology in action it was absolutely breathtaking."
Some 22,139 people turned out to vote in the Shrewsbury borough area, out of the 40,000 eligible.
In outlying areas postal votes were placed in central points at post offices or libraries. In the only parish council election in Hanwood, turnout was a record 69%.
Mrs Bahrami said she would not like to see the council returning to paper ballots, especially as it was the method she was forced to use.
"Once you have tasted the cutting edge of technology, you don't really want to go back.
"I was on my way into work and realised I hadn't voted and because my area wasn't doing any pilots I had to turn my car back and go to the polling station.
"If there had been e-voting, I could have logged on to my PC and registered my vote."
Mrs Bahrami said voting on the internet benefits candidates because they can publish their photo and mini manifesto without going to the expense of printing leaflets and delivering them.
Shrewsbury and Atcham is now carrying out a survey of electors to find out what people thought of the experience.