The government has rejected calls from the elections watchdog to halt electronic voting until major changes are made to the implementation and security of e-voting systems.
In August, the Electoral Commission issued a series of reports on Ministry of Justice pilot schemes allowing internet and telephone voting in some areas of England in last May’s local elections. A second set of reports examined electronic counting pilots.
It sounded a strong warning over the future of electronic voting, saying the pilots had generally worked from an operational point of view but “the level of risk placed on the availability and integrity of the electoral process was unacceptable”.
The commission recommended that there should be no more pilots of electronic voting without a system of individual voter registration. “There also needs to be further consideration of its wider implications and significant improvements to testing and implementation,” the watchdog said.
But the government’s response says electoral modernisation is dependent on practical information gathering, of which piloting had been “a vital part”.
“We do not agree with the commission that no further e-voting pilots should be undertaken until these elements are finalised,” the response says. “We believe that further pilots will be necessary to test capacity and scalability issues for e-voting solutions if this is to be pursued.”
Individual registration had been rejected by parliament, the response published by the Ministry of Justice says. It adds: “We do not think that the identifiers commonly proposed for individual registration, namely a signature and date of birth, are the appropriate ones and it is not something that is needed to underpin e-voting.”
The government and the Electoral Commission are also at odds over e-counting. The watchdog had declared that piloting e-counting systems had largely achieved its purpose and there was no need for more – but the lessons learned must be applied in any further e-counting exercise.
In response, the Ministry of Justice said that the fiasco of the Scottish elections – where 142,000 ballot papers were rejected, and counting problems - severely delayed" meant testing must continue.
“The experience of the Scottish elections in May 2007 suggests that further piloting is required before e-counting can be considered to be a reliable and transparent solution on a national scale,” the response says.
But an independent inquiry last month found that electronic counting systems were not to blame for the huge volume of rejected ballot papers.