Headlines: June 24th, 2003

The number of people casting a vote in this year’s local elections in areas trying out new forms of balloting went down in most cases. A study by the Electoral Reform Society shows that in only one area did e-voting lead to a significant rise in turnout.The survey of local election pilots found that e-voting was not the answer to raising participation. The average turnout in councils using electronic methods fell by 1.5% and the Society’s report concludes, “It remains the case that e-voting increases convenience but does not increase the number of people who feel it is worthwhile voting. For this reason, it is our conclusion that electronic remote voting fails the Government’s test of increasing turnout.”

Quoting examples of what happened in the 17 districts, which tested e-voting, it finds that in Chorley, which had tested postal voting and e-counting only the previous year, there was a 12% drop in turnout and in Swindon, which piloted digital TV and internet voting turnout fell by 1.4%. In Sheffield there was no change. Its pilots included a system using smartcards. The exception was Vale Royal, the one council said to have a “significant” increase in turnout without also using all-postal voting. Its turnout rose by 13%.

The reports says that in order to bring turnout in local elections consistently up to the sort of level which could be described as healthy, other actions need to be taken to make voting more attractive. Suggestions include boosting voter education programmes to make sure that potential electors understand what is being elected; encouraging the parties to campaign positively in all areas and changing the voting system to one which encourages people to vote by making all votes contribute to the outcome. The report says any one or two of these measures are likely to have some effect but, it adds, “To truly ensure that local election turnouts consistently rise above the 50% mark, we recommend that all are necessary.”

The Society is more positive about postal voting and says the use of all-postal ballots raised turnouts consistently to more than 50% with turnout rising by 25% in one council area – Blyth Valley.