Government to push e-voting

Next year your local council could ask you to vote online, by mobile phone, digital TV or at a touch-screen kiosk

The UK government is calling on councils to conduct electronic voting trials in the next local elections, which will take place in May 2003.

Schemes that allow voting via the Internet, by mobile phone, digital TV, at a touch-screen kiosk or by post will all be welcomed, local government minister Nick Raynsford has indicated.

"This invitation follows on from the success of last May's pilots, when people in many parts of the country had their first real experience of voting electronically and by post," said Raynsford in a statement. "Such was the scale of the programme that the UK is quite rightly regarded as being among the pioneers of electoral modernisation."

The UK government has committed £30m to fund e-voting trials over the next three years, with the intention of holding an e-enabled general election sometime after 2006.

A total of 30 councils held e-voting trials in this year's local elections, including St Albans, which let constituents vote online, by phone, by post or by using an electronic terminal at a polling station.

As ZDNet UK reported, although the St Albans trial was a technological success, there is little evidence that it increased the number of people voting -- a key issue in political circles following the disappointing turnout in the last general election.

The Electoral Commission has conducted an inquiry into all this year's e-voting trials. It found that much more work had to be done before e-voting could be used at a general election and recommended that more trials were carried out.

Vange Yianni, technology manager at software vendor and professional sevrices consultancy Compuware UK, has warned that the public could lose confidence in e-voting if one of the systems used in the trials suffered a high-profile failure.

"Councils looking at e-voting trials must ensure that they fully understand the size, scope and technical complexities of the projects they are undertaking. They must be able to guarantee the security of the e-voting systems and also consider scalability issues, as millions of people could potentially vote online," Yianni told ZDNet UK News.

"The integration of communication mediums such as SMS, the Internet, and interactive TV will undoubtedly present challenges, however testing systems rigorously throughout their development will help to address these challenges," Yianni added.

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