E-voting plans shelved

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Indy Politics

The Government's move to drop trials for pilot schemes in next May's local elections was revealed in a written Parliamentary answer, published last week during the Parliamentary recess, from constitutional affairs minister Harriet Harman.

"The Government has decided not to invite applications from local authorities to conduct electronic voting pilots in the May 2006 local elections," said Ms Harman.

A spokesman for her department said today: "The Government believes that the time is not yet right to take forward the piloting of e-voting.

"We are not ruling out piloting e-voting in the future and any future plans will be taken forward at the appropriate time."

The Conservatives said the move showed the Government's plans for for widespread electronic voting had been reduced to a "shambles".

Shadow secretary of state for constitutional affairs Oliver Heald said: "Conservatives welcome the Labour Government's belated cancellation of its reckless e-voting plans.

"Remote electronic voting is even more vulnerable than all-postal voting; not only are the internet and text messaging insecure, but Pin numbers must still be sent by post to voters - and there is no way of confidently identifying that an electronic vote is being cast by the eligible voter.

"This lack of an adequate audit trail is extremely worrying in the light of the risk of fraud already exposed with all-postal voting."

He continued: "Past e-voting pilots in local elections have proved expensive and not delivered any significant increase in turnout.

"The Government must retain the tried and trusted ballot box as the foundation of British democracy. Restoring public confidence in our electoral system is more important than spending taxpayers' money on 'Big Brother' text messaging gimmicks."

The Conservatives pointed out that as recently as May this year, Ms Harman stated that the Government remained committed to the goal of multi-channel elections, in which voters' choices would include e-voting, and that the strategy for achieving that goal included encouraging local authorities to continue local electoral pilots, including the use of remote e-voting.

They also recalled that in a 2002 consultation paper, the Government set out the goal of an e-enabled General Election sometime after 2006.

Ms Harman said on BBC Radio 4's The World At One: "We just think that the time is not right for it (e-voting) at the moment.

"We talked to a lot of people, we listened to a lot of views including from the Conservative Party. The general consensus seemed to be that the time is not right for it at the moment.

"So we are not going ahead with the pilots that we were planning to run otherwise in the May 2006 council elections."