UK gears up for £18m e-voting trials

Nearly one and a half million people will be able to cast their vote electronically for the May local elections, with pubs and supermarkets set for a major role

The largest ever trial of electronic voting in Britain will take place in next month's local elections, as the UK government gears up for an e-enabled general election.

A total of 18 e-voting projects are being funded -- twice as many as in last year's trials -- at a cost of over £18m. Local authorities involved include Sheffield, St Albans, Ipswich, Norwich and South Somerset.

The government said last Friday that the trials will involve up to 1.4 million people, allowing them to cast their vote electronically -- by email or text message, via the Internet or at a kiosk, some of which will be stationed in pubs and supermarkets.

As ZDNet UK reported, last year's trials were a technological success. However, there was little evidence that they resulted in an increase in the proportion of people who actually voted -- a disappointment to those who claim e-voting will increase turnout, especially of younger potential voters.

Companies and organisations involved in this year's trials include BT, Oracle, and the Electoral Reform Society.

According to BT, the technology behind these trials could support national e-voting in the future, and is fully compliant with approved e-voter standards. "E-voting initiatives are about much more than technology. We are delivering a 21st century voting system to meet the needs of 21st century lifestyles," said Andy Hudson, general manager of BT Government, in a statement.

"We will be working with local authorities and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to reinvigorate the whole voting process, from education, community programmes, voter-friendly procedures -- a whole package of improvement," Hudson added.

There are concerns, though, that e-voting systems could open up the electoral process to widespread fraud.

Rebecca Mercuri, assistant professor of computer science at Pennsylvania's Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, warned last year that e-voting could not be trusted.

Mercuri told The Guardian that e-voting systems provide less accountability, poorer reliability and greater opportunity for fraud than traditional methods.

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