Sunday, May 26, 2002

"The UK Government will need to think seriously before it goes ahead with an electronic general election" says Kablenet, quoting from some research (commissioned by 'government' itself). Some other quotes ... text voting trivialises the process, secrecy requirements are not clear in international law, pin numbers are annoying, cost of setup may be high and never recouped and then the killer statement, "Also, the internet in its current form does not provide an adequate level of security and has to be made more secure for voting. 'Until then we have grave reservations' ". So we need a new Internet? This is complicated stuff. There are all sorts of issues here and the report is worth a read. But I don't think the right points have come out in the sound bites so far. For instance, the report does indeed note that setup costs are high but goes on to say that costs will be recouped over the longer term. This is surely an argument to build a common infrastructure, or a few standards-based common infrastructures (and this will help in making sure that they are protected and conform to the right secrecy rules, ease the auditing burden etc). e-voting is coming, it needs to come as a natural extension of the e-government programme. And, like everything else we do, it needs to be easy to use, attractively packaged and trustworthy. That means that the pilot work needs to be extended, but not in a throw away approach - it needs to be in a way that can be built on readily. I believe that text voting will be appropriate, for some people - text is already a many times a day activity for some (I send 1000/month and probably receive a similar number) - but it's only one way in. Kiosks in easier places to get to than the usual local school will also be part of the solution. Maybe even ATMs at the bank or in the supermarket. One of the report's conclusions is that e-voting is unlikely to increase turnout ... that's right, and obvious. But, what if it was packaged with ways of getting to know your MP or prospective MP better (some people vote for a specific party, some vote for a person) with their record of speeches, votes cast, views on key issues and so on, along with a big "vote here" button on the page. If this page was easy to use, let you compare people and the parties, let you do it in easily accessible places and then complete the vote, would that attrach people that don't vote now? It's got to be something tha persuades people that there's a reason to vote - and that means increasing the ability to identify with the issues, the way the candidates might deal with them and so on. Just my view of course.

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