Letter from ODPM

ODPM Logo

Roy Williams, Policy Adviser
Democracy and Local Governance
Zone 5/A1
Eland House
Bressenden Place
London SW1E 5DU

22 May 2003 (received 2 June 2003)

Dear Mr Kitcat

Thank you for your letter of 10 May [PDF] and the
attached report
about the recent all-postal voting scheme in Brighton & Hove in this
year’s elections.

We welcome your comments about the electoral pilot schemes and your wider general comments about reforming our electoral system. As your
rightly point out in your detailed report there are many complex issues that must be thoroughly examined, if we are to modernise a system that has
changed little since the nineteenth century.

We are alive to the concerns of voters and other stakeholders that the integrity of the ballot should not be breached by the use of new methods
of voting. This is why we made it a requirement of our pilot acceptance process that local authorities assess the effectiveness of these new methods,
and also monitor and combat electoral fraud.

The independent Electoral Commission is conducting an extensive evaluation of each of the
fifty-nine pilot schemes [PDF] held this year, and will publish
their report at the end of July. In particular, the report will focus on all-postal voting and its wider impact and context within the voting system. The
comments submitted by you, councils and other stakeholders will be central to that evaluation process.

We will consider these findings fully before deciding what should be the next step in this gradual process of electoral modernisation. We aim to
build on the good work of this year’s pilot programme and to examine what more we can do to encourage variety and innovation for future pilots.

In addition to all-postal voting schemes, electronic voting and counting will play a key part in future voting arrangements. We want to see in
place elections that adopt a multi-channelled approach, with voting possible, for instance, by electronic means (including the Internet, SMS text
message, interactive digital television, and the telephone) as well as at conventional polling stations.

We are keen to explore changes in electoral procedures that make voting straightforward, efficient, secure and above all readily accessible to all
electors given today’s lifestyles and the work and family commitments so many people have.

We accept that these changes in the themselves will not be the sole panacea to a decline in voter turnout, but we believe that the final shape of a
modernised democracy will encompass a mixture of all these voting methods. It is only right that we proceed cautiously and we will not rush to
extend innovations to our voting system without considering their implications in detail.

Yours sincerely,

Roy Williams

Our reply via email

To: Roy Williams, ODPM

From: Jason Kitcat, the free e-democracy project
Date: 03/05/2003

Mr Williams,

Thank you for your detailed reply of 22nd May in response to my letter [PDF] and
report of 10th May.

I very much look forward to seeing the Electoral Commission’s report on this year’s pilots. In particular I hope to see that improvements have
been made in fraud detection. A notable comment the Commission have made on the previous pilots was their inability to monitor if any fraud had
occurred due to a lack of adequate measures being put in place.

Well I generally welcome modernise initativies I was particularly concerned by your unequivocal statement that electronic systems will play a key
part in future elections. The considerable doubt over the security and verifiability of electronic systems should make their introduction a matter of ‘if’
not ‘when’. Nevertheless your propose a multi-channelled approach which includes technologies which are all classified as Remote Electronic Voting
(REV).

No independent reports that I have read, no expert testimony, not even ODPM’s own studies recommend moving to REV in the immediate future
due to the massive risks inherent in voting on uncontrollable platforms, let alone the opportunities for personation and ‘family voting’.

Multi-channel voting poses incredible challenges for ensuring that voters are properly authenticated and can only vote once. Thus while you
express caution and thankfully accept that turnout will not be solved by new voting channels alone, the inevitably of your statements makes one
wonder quite how much the technology is being challenged. If your vision is that ‘modernised democracy’ will include e-voting then it would seem
that your perspective will be focussed on ensuring that the technology works. Yet it is the skeptic’s view, challenging the very need of the
technologies, that should be brought to bear on this matter.

Before assuming a need for technologising the voting process the voters need to be given a stake in what is proposed. I’m hoping that the
upcoming debate at the Oxford Union (in which I will be arguing
against Internet voting) will be an important step toward increasing public awareness of these issues.

Best regards,

Jason Kitcat

%d bloggers like this: