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Move to e-voting by 2006 branded "premature"

The country's not ready to start voting online

The government's target to get e-voting in place in time for the 2006 general election came in for some harsh criticism today from the Electoral Commission, which branded the date "premature".

The Commission's report Modernising elections found the turnout for the electronic pilot schemes, trialled in May's local elections, was unconvincing and insists that more trials need to be held before the schemes become widespread.

"The future lies in finding secure means of extending absent voting through the use of telephones and the internet," said Sam Younger, chairman of the Electoral Commission.

But with turnout at its lowest point ever, the only areas that showed any increase in voter numbers, according to the report, were those which ran all-postal voting schemes.

Recognising the public's concerns over security, the Commission acknowledged that the government needed to develop new methods of preventing fraud, which included rethinking traditional means of identifying voters.

But its recommendations offered no real answers as to how this should be done.

One important proposal is the setting up of an electronic register of voters which would initially allow people to vote from anywhere within their council area, and eventually from any polling station nationwide.

But those people who lived within pilot scheme areas showed little enthusiasm for new ways of voting.

Only 23 percent of respondents said e-voting had encouraged them to vote, and nearly 50 percent did not think the schemes made voting easier.

"We must promote the availability of means by which voters can participate without having to visit a polling area," said Younger.

The report also recognised the lack of IT competence among polling clerks and stated more government investment needed to be focused in this area before electronic voting could become widespread.

The government has so far allocated £30m to pilot schemes.

A full copy of the report can be viewed here.

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