UK gets first phone vote

BRITAIN IS set to become the first country to allow the public to vote in elections by telephone.

In an attempt to improve recent poor voter turnouts, pilot projects are being drawn up by the Government to allow electors to cast their ballot from home.

Voters would be given a secure number on their polling cards which they would quote when registering their vote over the telephone, The Independent has learned.

To fulfil legal requirements forbidding any charges on voting, all calls would be made on 0800 freephone numbers, and personal identification numbers (PIN) would make the chances of someone guessing a voter's identity one in 800 million.

The scheme's backers say it could prove popular because the public are used to banking, and making other financial transactions by telephone.

The idea is seen a radical way of combating the voter apathy witnessed in elections for the Welsh Assembly and local councils earlier this month. Turnout at the polls averaged 30 per cent. In some local by-elections it has been as low as 12 per cent.

Next month's European elections, which will be fought under a proportional system for the first time in British elections, are also expected to be characterised by record low voter participation levels.

Turnout is particularly low among younger voters. Only 11 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds on the electoral register voted in the 1994 European elections.

Under plans being considered by the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, the televote scheme would be tried out first in referendums for city mayors.