I've had the time to give the May 2007 Electoral Pilots prospectus a more thorough look. There's some good, such as very sensible thoughts on e-counting, some intriguing and some which is erm, less good.
A main external factor driving electoral modernisation is stated to be:
The context of the Government's corresponding drive towards the electronic delivery of services in an era where it is increasingly common for an ever-wider array of transactions to be completed remotely either online or by phone. Indeed there may be an expectation by younger voters who have grown up in the Internet age that voting should also be available this way.
I recently completed a project which involved interviewing members of a local authority's youth council. While we discussed the Internet and elections in detail, not one of them raised the idea of electronic voting. I think that actually quite a few look forward to the idea of walking to a polling station, nodding to the Bobby on duty and marking their ballot paper for the first time.
To facilitate the development and adoption of robust e-voting services, as Government has done previously, the DCA is co-ordinating the procurement of e-voting and e-counting services. This procurement exercise will establish a framework consisting of a number of companies or consortia capable of delivering solutions to support piloting over the next four years.
Four more years of e-voting? I'm guessing the government is finding it difficult to sign up suppliers without a commitment to at least four years of pilots. I think many of the suppliers lost quite a bit of money on the previous pilots and are a bit wary, to say the least.
e-voting may have a positive environmental impact by reducing the need for paper. There are however other factors that need to be considered to identify whether there is an overall benefit in this regard
Some of the factors that will be used when considering whether to approve a pilot are really quite good. The Secretary of State needs to be satisfied that: * there is learning value to be gained from conducting the pilot and there is a clear means of testing the impact of the innovation – including the implications for security and potential fraud; * the pilot will maintain public confidence in the electoral process and that key risks have been identified and managed; * any innovation is as secure, if not more secure than, conventional electoral practices: * any innovation is robust and attracts public confidence:
It will be very interesting to see if and how the pilots meet these goals. None of the e-voting pilots previously have, in my opinion, been as secure as conventional elections held in the UK.
One suggested e-voting pilot idea is:
- [a] system may be used to link to the elector to candidate information to ensure they have the opportunity to update themselves on candidates and policies at the time of voting;
Which is very interesting. I don't think it's going to be easy to provide this within a secure e-voting environment. However this kind of online candidate information is exactly what I'll be chairing a discussion of at a session for e-democracy '06.
Overall I do think the prospectus is fairly well written, I just question this policy of continually piloting e-voting when there are so many other potential improvements to our electoral system to try.