More than twenty local authorities in England and Wales are planning to try e-voting and e-counting technology in next year’s local government elections. In all sixty-three councils have applied to participate in the May 2003 electoral pilot programme. .The increase in interest in piloting different approaches to the election – and e-pilots in particular – means next year’s programme will be the most extensive so far and could involve almost seven million voters if all the proposed schemes are approved. By comparison pilots which were run in May this year covered around two-and- half-million voters.
The Local Government Minister, Nick Raynsford, said the level of interest shown by authorities was encouraging and it would benefit voters by testing ways to make elections more straightforward and accessible. “Our electoral pilot programme is an important step towards achieving our aim of an e-enabled general election after 2006,” the minister said.
Of the applications received, nineteen are for e-voting pilots, seven more involve electronic counting and thirty-seven would involve all-postal ballots. The e-voting applications propose different ballot methods including using interactive digital television, SMS text messaging, using touch-tone telephones and the Internet as well as voting at electronic kiosks.
There will now be consultations with the independent Electoral Commission and an announcement on which pilots have been accepted is expected to be made later this month for non e-voting proposals and by mid-January for the others.
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister says the large number of applications to hold pilots in May next year will have a knock on effect on what happens at local authority by-elections. To focus efforts on the main pilot programme, the Government is not expecting to approve any requests for trying out different voting and counting methods at any local authority by-elections to be held between January 1st and the end of March next year.