Headlines: January 24th, 2003

Local election day in May will be the biggest test so far of  e-voting with more than 1.5 million people able to vote using the internet, digital television or text messaging.The government has announced that 18 local authorities have won  approval for e-voting electoral pilot schemes. In almost every case the successful councils will be trying out e-voting in all their wards. That means that while the number of e-pilots is double that in last May ‘s elections, the number of people who will get the chance to use the new methods has more than trebled.

Local Government Minister Nick Raynsford said, “This year’s local elections will be the largest test of the Government’s e-voting plans yet, confirming the UK’s position as one of the pioneers of e-voting in Europe.”

He said the 18 authorities chosen for the trials had produced proposals that demonstrated they were ready and able to offer electors the opportunity to try out 21st century voting techniques. “The pilots are an important step towards our aim of holding an e-enabled general election sometime after 2006. These innovations will help to make elections more relevant, straightforward and accessible for voters,” Mr. Raynsford added.

In Chester, Chorley, Vale Royal and South Tyneside electors will be able to cast their votes using the internet, and touch-tone telephones. Sheffield, Malvern Hills, Shrewsbury and Atcham and Stratford-on-Avon councils will use mobile phone text messaging, the internet and even digital TV in some areas. Elsewhere Epping Forest, Ipswich, Norwich and St. Albans will try a combination of all electronic methods including e-voting at polling stations and e-counting.

Sir Jeremy Beecham, Chair of the Local Government Association, said the schemes showed councils’ commitment to exploiting new technology to find new ways for people to participate in local democracy.