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E-voting trials halted

By Reuters
London, 03 Aug 2007

Trials of Internet voting at elections should be halted until officials address serious concerns over costs and the risk of fraud, Britain's election watchdog said on Thursday.

Britain's Electoral Commission said in a report that e-voting pilot schemes at the local elections in May were expensive, rushed and lacked adequate security testing.

"We have learnt a good deal from pilots over the past few years," said its CEO, Peter Wardle. "But we do not see any merit in continuing with small-scale, piecemeal piloting where similar innovations are explored each year without sufficient planning and implementation time."

It was "fortuitous" that there were no security breaches during the trials, the report said.

"The level of risk of a security incident was much higher than it should have been," it said. "There was an unnecessarily high level of risk associated with all pilots.

"The testing, security and quality assurance adopted was insufficient."

Online voting could one day be more accurate and efficient than traditional methods, the watchdog found, but it said the trials had uncovered a series of problems, including:

* Some voters forgot the Internet password needed to cast their ballot online;
* Others were confused by the forms and thought they were signing up for a telephone vote;
* The system of pre-registering e-voters in an attempt to tighten security was "time-consuming and inefficient"; and
* In one trial area, the northern city of Sheffield, two-thirds of those registered to vote online failed to go to the polls electronically.

E-voting should be halted until the government publishes a strategy on modernising elections that address concerns over costs, transparency and public trust, the watchdog said.

Electoral modernisation minister Michael Wills said the government would study the report carefully.

"The purpose of pilots is to learn lessons for the future and we will do so," he said. "The testing of innovations in elections is an important part of developing public services that are efficient, effective, empowering and responsive to needs and demands of citizens."

Conservative shadow justice secretary Nick Herbert said the report was a "damning indictment of Labour's interference with the electoral process".