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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 July 2007, 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK
E-voters 'not boosting turnout'
Woman casting her vote electronically
E-voting was part of the response to falling voter turnout
Internet and phone voting does not seem to boost turnout at local elections in England, according to BBC analysis.

Analysis of pilot projects since 2002 suggests that those people who voted online would have voted anyway.

BBC political research editor David Cowling said postal voting was the only option which seemed to boost turnout.

In Swindon, where all electors have been offered alternative voting methods since 2002, 24.1% of votes in 2007 were made online, or by telephone.

E-voting, part of a response to the falling voter turnout in recent years, allows people to vote using internet kiosks, home computers, text messages and digital television.

Big Brother

With the popularity of internet and telephone voting in reality TV shows like Big Brother, the government has suggested it would be a logical move to extend that into local elections.

The hope was that more people would vote - particularly young people who are less likely to take part in local elections.

But the figures appear to show that, even with e-voting, it was the older age groups, from 35 to 54, who were more likely to take part than those aged 18 to 34.

18-24 yrs: 5.7%
25-34 yrs: 21.8%
35-44 yrs: 27.3%
45-54 yrs: 24.4%
55-64 yrs: 14.7%
65+ yrs: 6.1%
Ipswich 2003 local elections

In Ipswich, more over-65s voted online than 18-24 year olds.

Swindon offers the most complete evidence for the impact - or not - of e-voting.

The borough has offered e-voting to residents of all its wards since 2002, and saw turnout increase from 29.5% in 2003 to 33.8% in 2007.

But the percentage of e-votes dropped from 17.6% to 15.9%. The vast majority of Swindon's voters, 75.9%, used polling stations and postal votes.

Internet popular

In local elections across England, most areas offering e-votes in 2003 still saw voter numbers drop on previous turnouts.

Of the 14 pilots the BBC has details for, only four councils saw voter turnout rise.

In the 2007 experiment, five councils, including Swindon took part. Voter turnout rose about 5% in Sheffield, Rushmoor, and South Bucks - but not because of a huge boost in e-votes - and fell 11.9% in Shrewsbury & Atcham.

Ipswich: Men 58% Women 42%
Rushmoor: 54-46
Sheffield: 55-45
St Albans: 55-45
Swindon: 59-41
Vale Royal: 58-42
Figures from 2003 local elections

The figures also show that of the various e-voting methods, online votes were consistently more popular than those choosing to vote by telephone.

But the more low-tech methods - polling stations and postal votes - have remained by far the most popular method of voting across all regions.

In 2003 97,964 people voted by internet, telephone, text message or digital TV - compared with 368,809 people in the same areas who voted by post or at polling stations.

The BBC's Cowling, who collated and analysed the figures, said: "There seems to be no evidence that e-voting increases participation in elections.

"The experience of pilots to date suggests that those who vote by internet would have voted by more traditional methods in any event, in the absence of any e-voting option."

In June the Open Rights Group warned e-voting could undermine British democracy and called for it to be abandoned until it was to be proved reliable.

The group said e-voting did not allow people to see how their votes were recorded or counted, making oversight of elections "impossible" and open to fraud.

And e-democracy expert Professor Stephen Coleman is among those who has taken issue with the theory that e-voting boosts turn-out, arguing: "Most people who don't vote do so for reasons other than convenience."

A spokeswoman for the Electoral Commission said it had no general oversight reports into e-voting - but was expecting in August to publish 12 reports into different "modernisation" pilots during the May local elections.

She said the Commission had been urging the government to make clear its future plans for e-voting, by publishing a "roadmap" for all its "electoral modernisation" schemes.

Swindon's enthusiasm for e-voting
02 May 07 |  Wiltshire
E-voting: Democratic or dangerous?
08 Oct 03 |  Americas
E-voting fails to stir the public
02 May 03 |  Technology
Double-check over e-vote problem
04 May 07 |  Wiltshire
US e-voting in the spotlight
22 Oct 04 |  Click
Digital rights group gets going
28 Jul 05 |  Technology

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