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Government rejects retreat on e-voting

'Further pilots will be necessary'

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The government has dismissed the Electoral Commission's call to pull back from e-voting. It has rejected the commission's view that no further e-voting pilots should take place until the government has a comprehensive electoral modernisation framework covering the role of e-voting.

It has turned down a number of proposals made by the commission following the pilots that took place during May 2007.

Election counting took place in Breckland, Dover, South Bucks, Stratford-on-Avon, and Warwick, but problems in three of these areas resulted in the e-count being abandoned in favour of a traditional manual count. Problems with the collation of scanned vote papers also affected elections in Scotland.

In a response published by the Ministry of Justice on 12 November 2007, the government said piloting was an "incremental and cautious process" to decide what works and what does not.

"We believe that further pilots will be necessary to test capacity and scalability issues for e-voting solutions if this is to be pursued," the government said.

It also refused to accept the commission's view that the level of risk placed on the availability and integrity of the electoral process by the pilots was unacceptable. It acknowledged that there were some operational problems around access to e-voting, but stressed that all pilots retained the option of a paper ballot.

The commission has made repeated calls for the government to publish an electoral modernisation strategy to ensure the benefits of piloting are maximised. But the government also dismissed this suggestion, insisting that the pilots' prospectus, which was published in October 2006 in conjunction with the commission, set out the strategic fit of the pilots programme, as well as the drivers and potential benefits of e-voting.

The government was equally defensive in response to another proposal to set up a central process to ensure that tested and approved e-voting solutions could be selected by local authorities.

It said: "The government believes that the current framework provides local authorities with a sound basis from which to make choices about working with suppliers, in the context of pilots and development of processes."

However, it accepted that if e-voting did progress beyond pilots then accreditation or certification of systems could be desirable.

The government also found fault with the commission's belief that the piloting process had largely achieved its aims for e-counting, and that many lessons around e-counting had already been learned.

Describing this view as premature, the government said it needed more information about the use of "proprietary machines, off-the-shelf solutions, auto-adjudication of ballots and the use of e-counting at different types of elections".

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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