UK Electoral Commission has called for a halt to electronic voting unless major changes are made to the way the voting systems are implemented and secured.
The watchdog has issued a series of reports on pilot projects commissioned by the Ministry of Justice that allowed internet and telephone voting in some areas of England in last May's local elections. A second set of reports examined electronic counting pilots.
A report by independent observers from the Open Rights Group, published in June, painted a grim picture of crashed computers and concerns about the systems’ security and reliability.
The group’s concerns are echoed in the new reports.
Electronic voting “should not be pursued any further without significant improvements to testing and implementation and a system of individual voter registration,” the commission said.
Although remote voting systems had “in broad terms” proved successful and facilitated voting, “the level of implementation and security risk involved was significant and unacceptable”, the watchdog found.
The commission found there had been "insufficient time available to implement and plan the pilots, and the quality assurance and testing was undertaken too late and lacked sufficient depth".
Limited testing and planning were also to blame for problems with e-counting pilots that saw the electronic count abandoned in favour of a manual count in three out of five test areas.
Electronic counting in the other two pilot areas “was completed although it was slower than expected and difficulties were reported”, the commission said.
Best practices learned on previous occasions “were not taken into account” in the May pilots, the commission noted.
“The experiences of 2007 have once again highlighted the fact that the implementation needs to be carried out in an appropriate fashion,” the commission said.
It issued technical reports from analysts Ovum and Actica, highlighting issues that ranged from “enormous variation” in the levels of readiness and fitness for purpose of the systems used to poor configuration.
Actica’s report on e-voting warned: “All of the pilots had an unnecessarily high level of risk because the time available to local authorities and suppliers between contract approval and polling day was less than half of what is needed.”
Electoral Commission chief executive Peter Wardle said: “We have learnt a good deal from pilots over the past few years. 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, and in the absence of any clear direction, or likelihood of new insights."
In some of the pilot areas for both e-counting and e-voting, “it was clear that local authority elections staff were supplier-led”, the commission warned.
This was often a reflection of authorities “not having the technical knowledge or project management skills”, while in other cases, “suppliers did not have sufficient knowledge of UK electoral law and practice”.
The commission’s analysis of the Scottish elections – which were thrown into chaos with results severely delayed