Local elections to pilot mobile and Internet voting

Liverpool and Sheffield will be allowing voters to cast their ballots by text message, and other programmes will let people vote over the Net from home

Thirty local councils will be piloting new voting technology at local and mayoral elections in May.

Voters in Liverpool and Sheffield will be the first to trial text message and digital TV voting in this year's local elections. Parts of Crewe and Nantwich, St Albans and Swindon will be piloting Internet voting from home, local libraries and council-run information kiosks.

"The pilots will be crucial in building public confidence and testing technical robustness to ensure that the integrity of the poll is maintained," said local government minister Nick Raynsford. "We are particularly keen to engage younger voters and feel these new innovations will help."

Electronic counting methods are also set to be trialled in the London boroughs of Camden and Wandsworth, along with Chester, Rugby and Broxbourne.

The modernisation plans build on local election pilots trialled in 2000, and pave the way towards the introduction of e-voting in the UK. The government hopes that an e-enabled general election could be a reality after 2006.

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, with a consultation period to 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.

"Our aim is to learn from these pilots so we can confidently modernise our voting arrangements, making the most of new technology so that voting is more accessible for everyone, but at the same time secure and efficient," said Raynsford.

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.


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