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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 14:14 GMT 15:14 UK
Race for e-votes off to slow start
Pop Idol's Gareth Gates and Will Young
Remote voting proved popular for Pop Idol viewers
test hello test
By Robert Andrews
BBC News Online
line

With a click, a touch and a press, voters are going online in a move that could see the ballot box becoming little more than a relic.

In a pilot for Thursday's English local government elections, hundreds are voting by text message, on the web and in digital kiosks.

For Wales, it is a different story, with the promised e-government revolution trailing a couple of years behind.

The Welsh Assembly has not signed up to the UK Government's ambitious target to wire up all council services by 2005.

Mobile phone
Hundreds could vote through mobile phone texting
But organisers of the English trials have said a similar Welsh election could be held immediately with their secure technology.

All week, towns and cities across the border have been piloting new methods of voting designed to boost withering turnout at local elections.

Liverpool, Sheffield, Hackney and Chester are some of the 15 councils to take votes by mobile phone, digital television, the internet and touch screens.

Electronic election

They received 4.1m from the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.

It is part of a 350m initiative to put all council services online by 2005, leading to an online general election the following year.


When you introduce a new technology, evolution, rather than revolution, is the key

Julia Glidden, Election.com
Connecting to young, busy, immobile or disenfranchised people could woo the 70.4% who stayed at home for 2000's local elections, next held in Wales in 2004.

The world's first legally binding online poll - Arizona's 2000 presidential primary - saw participation leap 623% as people clicked from home for their favourite candidates.

The company which managed that exclusive, Election.com, is now coordinating the Liverpool and Sheffield digital ballots.

They are aiming to mimic the remote vote success of Pop Idol and Big Brother on the Arizona model.

Welsh question

But Wales will not test the same technology for a couple of years.

The assembly deadline for councils to voluntarily offer their draft e-government visions was 31 March, when English polling stations were already installing servers and screens.

And they were not asked to offer firm promises, ideals or costings until next March, when prospective Assembly Members will be wrestling in the assembly's own election.

Valleys
Wales' e-government vision is starting slowly, surely
Amid rife European concern that voter apathy is giving extremist politicians a foothold, that ballot will not be wired either.

But the tech gap does not worry Local Government Minister Edwina Hart, whose assembly is giving councils 9.1m for the e-government task.

"Evidence on electronic voting has been, at best, mixed," a senior cabinet spokesman said on her behalf.

"Reports from the first two completed studies did not yield any increase in turnout.

"Pilots, by definition, only amount to initial steps in the reform of a very long-established electoral system."

Slow but sure

Wales already languishes at the bottom of the UK's league for internet use.

And Election.com, which looks well placed to wire up any wannabe digital democracy, is firmly behind the assembly.

"There are no local elections in Wales right now, so this technology need not be available," managing director Julia Glidden told BBC News Online.

Jean Marie Le Pen
Many say apathy gave Jean Marie Le Pen a French foothold
"It's not a question of doing first; it is about doing it right.

"When you introduce a new technology to the public, you have to educate the populace - evolution, rather than revolution, is the key."

Glidden held initial talks with Welsh councils before deciding no trials were needed

She has received thanks from immobile voters who cast their first ballot with this week's pilots.

But, she said, it was sensible of the Welsh Assembly to take "the gradualist approach."

"It makes complete sense to me," she said, adding this week's trials so far are "extremely successful."

"Electronic votes are a very powerful tool for strengthening the relationship with government.

"But we have to ensure people can cope when we deploy it."

 VOTE RESULTS
Would you vote for your councillor digitally?

Yes
 84.09% 

No
 15.91% 

44 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


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See also:

01 May 02 | UK Politics
Q&A: The local elections
29 Apr 02 | dot life
Can a text message save democracy?
08 Apr 02 | Sci/Tech
E-voting put to the test
05 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Text message voting to be trialled
03 Nov 00 | Vote USA 2000
US youth vote online
05 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Online voting fraud warning
05 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Big Brother chief's voter advice
07 Jan 02 | dot life
E-voting: A load of old ballots?
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