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Government pours cold water on e-voting

14/10/14

Polling station sign A switch to electronic voting has been ruled out by the government - just weeks after a Labour Party report said it backed the shake-up.

Sam Gyimah, the constitution minister, told MPs that such a voting revolution was unwise because there was no way to "check an error".

The verdict came as Gyimah slightly increased the proportion of voters announced as being successfully matched with existing central and local databases, ahead of the switch to individual electoral registration (IER).

During question time in the House of Commons, the minister said 80% of names had been matched, edging up on the 78% originally found on Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) records.

Gyimah also said that online registration - launched in June - had been "a big success so far", with 90% of users declaring themselves "satisfied or very satisfied".

Of more than 2.5 million applications already made under individual electoral registration, "the majority" had been made online.

At its autumn conference, Labour pointed to electronic voting as part of a package of reforms that could build on the excitement and record turnout at the Scottish referendum.

Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, said: "Holding elections at weekends to raise turnout. Polling opened a week in advance to allow early voting. Electronic voting, making sure it's affordable and isn't open to abuse."

In the commons, Chloe Smith, a Conservative backbencher and former Cabinet Office minister, said: "Having stood in his shoes, I support my honourable friend's work on registration. Does he agree that the time has come to consider updating our voting methods to include online and mobile options, in line with the way in which an entire generation lives its life in other spheres?"

Gyimah replied: "Registering to vote is very different from actually casting a vote online. Currently, if there is an error, we can check it, but if someone voted online and there was an error there would be no mechanism for checking it. So that is a step we will not be taking at this moment."

The minister also came under pressure over suggestions that voters with learning disabilities are unable to register online.

But he said: "We have learnt lessons from places such as Northern Ireland. We are currently funding, not just electoral returning officers, but a number of organisations, including Mencap, to ensure that people end up on the register."

The electronic voting debate is likely to hit the headlines again early next year when the Speaker's Commission on Digital Democracy publishes its report in January. E-voting was one of the key themes in the commission's inquiry, which finished taking public submissions on the topic last week.

 

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