A digital rights campaign group has warned that the government is ignoring fundamental failings in its trials of electronic voting technology.
The group, which organised volunteers to monitor e-voting and e-counting pilots in the May elections, hit out at the government’s rejection of the Electoral Commission’s call to halt electronic voting trials.
The Electoral Commission issued a series of reports on Ministry of Justice pilot schemes allowing internet and telephone voting and electronic counting in last May’s local elections.
It warned that electronic voting 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 said electoral modernisation was 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 government response to the commission said. "We believe that further pilots will be necessary to test capacity and scalability issues for e-voting solutions if this is to be pursued."
But the Open Rights Group, which submitted its own highly critical 64-page report to the Electoral Commission in June, said its observers had seen significant problems.
The group highlighted the government’s statement that all the e-voting pilots “had comprehensive contingency plans to ensure that electors were not disenfranchised and retained their option of a paper ballot", saying its observers had noted voters being turned away from the polling station when they found themselves unable to vote by telephone or online.
Becky Hogge, the Open Rights Group's executive director, said: "Every voter expects their vote to count, and to count once. Until there is consensus that that expectation can be met, remote electronic voting should be reserved for the purposes for which it is fit - naming cats on Blue Peter and voting on the X factor."
Elections were one of the most complicated areas for applying digital technology, she added. "Not only must the system be robust and easy to use, it must ensure voters' anonymity and privacy, yet be transparent and auditable, and be completely secure against both external tampering and fraud by employees, consultants and the outsourced workers often used to develop components of the system."
A single software or hardware engineer could bias the result in a marginal seat, she warned, adding that there was "a low probability of a professionally executed fraud being detected".