So this year Swindon residents will be able to vote for a whole week on-line, from April 26th right through to 9pm on May 3rd. In another pioneering step, alongside the ability to vote by phone people will also be able to vote in any poling booth throughout the whole borough. So a resident in North Swindon will be able to pop out of their town-centre based workplace on May 3rd and vote from a polling station in the town-centre using a touch screen monitor.
Is the day of pencil and paper voting in a booth about to die?
It takes me back to the time when I was a political assistant for the Lib Dems in this town from year 2000 through to 2005.
- in 2000 pilot all-postal election in four wards;
- in 2002 - e-voting pilot as part of the May local elections. This involved remote voting by Internet and telephone together with traditional voting by post and at polling stations. The pilot was widely considered to be successful. Over 15% of votes were cast electronically and the overall turnout increased by 3.5%; and
- in 2003 the council carried out a more extensive e-voting pilot involving four electronic channels (internet, telephone, interactive digital television and kiosk voting) together with traditional postal voting and voting at polling stations. Although the turnout did not increase further, the uptake of the e-voting channels did increase and 24.5% of votes were cast electronically.
- In 2004 two by-elections used a paper-less vote with touch-screen voting in the polling stations. This was overseen by the Electoral Commission who published findings in a report
The 2002 pilot which Swindon Lib Dems supported was roundly criticised by the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors at the time – but we ignored their ranting. They were anxious about fraudulent voting by persons not listed on the ballot paper. This of course was widely realised with the horrific abuses of the all-postal elections in a variety of places in the UK, but there was no evidence of this happening in Swindon... maybe because multiple electronic voting abuse is difficult to trace? A pre-registered pin number and a request for your date of birth were all requested at the point of e-voting.
Lord Rennard, Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats said in February 2006: “The independent Electoral Commission has said that individual voter registration is necessary to prevent fraudulent abuse with postal voting... the Government should act to ensure that such a scheme is in place as soon as possible.” There is a very good audio report from Chris on the BBC from June 2006.
I think it’s a great boost for making voting easier and should allow more people to have a say on who runs the council. As Swindon votes in thirds, these elections will once again be a referendum on the ruling Tories… their majority is higher than the 20 seats being contested – so they cannot loose.
The down side is the eve-of-poll election leaflet will have to be delivered seven days early, and the so called “last minute election messages” will be difficult to spin.
And probably the bottom line is a key way to get more people out voting is for people to actually have something to vote for… over to you councillors, activists and party leaders.