Push-button voting on trial next year

ELECTRONIC VOTING could be introduced to Britain for the first time next year under radical plans announced by the Government yesterday to speed up election results.

Traditional pencil and ballot paper voting could be replaced by European- style computerised booths that allow electors to cast their vote at the touch of a button. The new system is set to be tested in the elections for London's Mayor and Assembly in May next year, Nick Raynsford, the Minister for London, announced in the House of Commons.

Mr Raynsford told MPs that he was looking into the possibility of using new systems to improve the efficiency of the voting process. In a written Parliamentary reply, Mr Raynsford revealed that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions had yesterday invited tenders for the work in the Tenders Electronic Daily publication.

"This would enable votes in the first Greater London Authority elections to be electronically recorded and counted. The new authority will be modern, streamlined and efficient and we should work towards a voting system to match," Mr Raynsford said.

The London elections will be more complex than normal polls, with voters facing a proportional system for mayor, single-member constituency assembly members and top-up assembly members.

As well as computer keypad voting booths,the Government is also considering introducing electronic counting machines to replace the current method of counting by hand. Both techniques are aimed at removing completely the need for re-counts that often delay results in marginal seats for hours. If the measures work for London, they could be introduced to national elections.

However, Mr Raynsford stressed that no changes would be introduced unless they were rigorously tested first. "Our priority is to run a successful election on 4 May 2000 so we will be looking at systems which have proved extremely reliable in national or regional elections elsewhere," he said.