Electronic government not to be confused with online

Government plans for online voting are being "hyped", according to one local authority
Written by Jane Wakefield, Contributor

The government has made big play of its plans to have all its services electronic by 2008. However, electronic does not necessarily mean online -- if you live in Bury, Stratford-upon-Avon or Warrington, you will be able to vote electronically in local elections in May, but only on machines at allocated polling stations.

In an interview with ZDNet News, e-Minister Patricia Hewitt claimed that the Representation of the People bill, currently going through Parliament, will introduce online voting. "It will modernise the voting system, allow for Sunday voting and voting in supermarkets. It will also introduce online voting," she said.

But a spokesman for Warrington County Council isn't convinced it is the beginning of the online revolution. "I don't think that is an option yet. When people talk about online, it is all hype. No election is yet run in that way," he said. The reality for electronic voting is registration of votes on a touch-screen at allocated polling stations.

The system will be beneficial, though, the spokesman believes, most notably because it will do away with the need for a count. "The government is keen to bring voting into the 21st century. At the moment, we do much the same as we have done for over a 100 years -- bits of paper, sealed boxes and the need for a count. All that takes an awfully long time," he added.

The e-Minister claims the government will bring the 2008 electronic conversion timetable forward. "That date was set a couple of years ago and everything has speeded up since then," she said.

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