E-voting gets technology thumbs-up

A trial in St Albans worked well, with the count completed within six minutes, but it does not seem to have had a positive effect on voter turnout

The e-voting trial held in St Albans last week has been hailed as a success, although it doesn't appear that the initiative encouraged many more voters to take part in the local elections. The organisers of the pilot project -- which let constituents vote online, by phone, by post or by using an electronic terminal at a polling station -- said they were delighted by the public response. "Many constituents have commented on how easy and effective the system has been to use," said Mike Lovelady, head of legal and democratic services at St Albans City and District council. "The goal of this pilot was to introduce new technologies to simplify the electoral procedure. It's been truly exciting to be part of this campaign and receive such positive feedback from the electorate. We believe the success of the St Albans campaign will no doubt be part of the foundation of future voting methods used worldwide," added Lovelady. The e-voting trial took place in two St Albans electoral wards -- Sopwell and Verulam -- between 9pm Thursday, 25 April and 9pm Saturday, 27 April. The rest of the St Albans electorate voted between 8am and 9pm on Thursday, 2 May. The count was started just after 9pm on Thursday 2 May, and was completed by 9.06pm -- significantly faster than a traditional election count. "One definite benefit of the trial was the speed of the count," Lovelady told ZDNet UK. Lovelady explained that, although electoral law meant he had to delay the count until 2 May, it would have been just as quick to count the votes from Sopwell and Verulam once the polling had stopped at 9pm on 27 April. Kiosk voting was the most popular method in both wards, while Internet voting proved more popular than postal voting. Sopwell:
Kiosk voting - 35.1 percent
Internet voting - 23.9 percent
Postal voting 23.3 percent
Telephone - 17.6 percent
Kiosk voting - 35.3 percent
Internet voting - 28.1 percent
Telephone voting - 27.7 percent
Postal voting - 8.9 percent
Lovelady said it was especially significant that around 55 percent of those who voted in Verulam chose to do so by Internet or Telephone. "This shows that many people prefer to vote remotely, rather than going along to a polling booth. If you give people a wider range of different ways of voting, then you will maintain or increase the number of people voting," Lovelady said. Did E-voting get more people voting?
It doesn't appear, though, that the chance to take part in e-voting persuaded many more people to take part in the local election. At 38.9 percent, the turnout in Verulam was significantly higher than in Sopwell, where only 23.27 percent of constituents voted. The overall voter turnout in the whole of St Albans was 38.22 percent. It is very difficult to draw clear conclusions on the effectiveness of e-voting at this stage, though. By extending the voting period to 48 hours, including a Saturday, and placing an e-voting kiosk at a local supermarket, the trial organisers were making several significant changes to the way the election was held. Lovelady said that it wasn't possible to say that more people voted in Sopwell -- where voter turnout is traditionally lower than average -- and Verulam. "We didn't have the polls open on 2 May, and if we had I think we would have got a higher turnout in those two wards," said Lovelady. Political parties generally plan their electoral campaign to peak on voting day, so the voters in Sopwell and Verulam might not have been exposed to the same level of campaigning. Lovelady believes that more testing should now be done into e-voting, and he hopes the government will consider extending the St Albans method to other elections. St Albans council worked with Oracle and BT to design and run the e-voting project.

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