Cook reveals hopes for Internet general election

The leader of the Commons hopes that technology will revive the democratic process for younger voters
Written by Wendy McAuliffe, Contributor

Internet voting could be a reality for the next general election, the leader of the House of Commons revealed at the weekend.

Speaking in an interview with The Guardian, Robin Cook unveiled his plans for Britain to become one of the first countries to introduce online voting for general elections. The Commons leader expressed his hope that new technology could be used to entice the under-40's back to the polling booths.

Cook described the current system of voting by pen and paper as "astonishingly quaint". "I suspect for anybody under 40, polling day is the only point in the year when they actually see a pencil stub, and that's probably why it's tied to a piece of string, because it's so rare and they might pocket it as a souvenir," he told The Guardian.

Online voting has never been used for a public election in the UK. The e-envoy, Douglas Alexander, is currently working with the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) to develop a course of action -- a consultation period will take place before any proposals are put on the table. There is currently no timetable in place for the initiative, but the permanent introduction of electronic voting would require new primary legislation, which would be debated in Parliament.

The DTLR has invited a number of county councils to submit proposals for online and telephone voting, which will be piloted in the 2002 local elections. Cook admits that it will be a "tough call" to have a secure online voting system in place for the next general election, but is confident that it could be a reality if the "bona fide questions of integrity" are resolved in time.

But the Electoral Reform Society has concerns. In response to the e-envoy's push for Internet democracy last October, the non-governmental organisation insisted that Britain is nowhere near ready for the implementation of online voting for public elections. It also expressed a concern over the government's lax approach to the security risks involved with such a system.

Cook's Internet plans also include plans for daily online feedback to Parliament on policy choices before MPs. The government is also just beginning to stream certain Westminster and select committee debates live on the Internet.

For everything Internet-related, from the latest legal and policy-related news, to domain name updates, see ZDNet UK's Internet News Section.

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