Watchdog group presses to monitor e-voting in May elections

A group of digital rights and privacy campaigners is pressing for access to monitor next month’s local elections, where a range of e-voting and counting technologies will be used.

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A group of digital rights and privacy campaigners is pressing for access to monitor next month’s local elections, where a range of e-voting and counting technologies will be used.

The Open Rights Group is expecting to hear in the next few days whether it will have access to polling and counting areas on election day, said Jason Kitcat, the group’s e-voting coordinator.

The 3 May elections mark a significant test for e-voting technologies. But new methods of voting and counting introduced since 2000 have raised concerns over privacy, security and the ability to perform recounts - as have e-voting systems deployed elsewhere in the world.

A variety of systems will be tested this May, including electronic scanning of votes and internet and telephone voting. The Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) has published details of the 12 pilot programmes set to be used in 13 local areas.

The Open Rights Group's volunteers want to monitor how these systems protect voter privacy and their vulnerability to fraud. The group's findings will be submitted to the Electoral Commission, which will is due to report on the pilot schemes by 3 August.

So far, one area has refused to allow monitors, Kitcat said. He did not identify the area.

"We are going to be observing the elections with an open mind," Kitcat said, although the group has published material questioning the security and accuracy of e-voting systems.

The software used to verify postal votes, which will be used across England and Wales, will be under close watch in May. Postal voting is seen as a way to make it easier for people to participate in elections but has been criticised as susceptible to fraud.

Special equipment, called postal vote identifiers, will be used to compare a voter's signature on their electoral registration form with the signature on the ballot, while voters’ birth dates will also be checked. The DCA has allotted up to £12.2m for the equipment.

But concerns have been raised over the accuracy and speed of the equipment. A DCA spokesperson said if a postal vote identifier detected anomalies between signatures, the ballot would be reviewed by an election official.

This year Scotland will replace manual counting with electronic counting for the first time – a move that is expected to produce results by the afternoon after the election. The e-counting services will be provided by DRS Data Service, the UK's only e-counting software vendor.

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