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NORTH EAST AND EAST MIDLANDS REGIONS SHOULD VOTE BY POST IN JUNE 2004

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Electors in the North East and East Midlands regions should have the opportunity to vote only by post at the Europe...
Electors in the North East and East Midlands regions should have the opportunity to vote only by post at the European parliament and local elections next year, says The Electoral Commission in a report published today. But its report, Electoral pilots at the June 2004 elections, concludes that no region is ready for electronic voting when pilots are introduced to elections to the European parliament for the first time.

Under the European Parliamentary and Local Elections (Pilots) Bill, the government announced plans to pilot innovative voting methods at the elections next June. The commission was directed to recommend up to three regions to undertake all-postal pilots, and to advise which of these regions could include internet or telephone voting.

In making its recommendation, the commission was required to consider nine criteria provided by the government, including the size, population and number of local authorities in each region, previous experience of the regional returning officers and of running electoral pilots, and potential for fraud. The commission also identified five further factors including the capacity and willingness of those responsible for running the elections.

A consultation paper was sent to over 2000 interested individuals and bodies, drawing 400 written responses in seven weeks. Having examined each of the regions it was able to consider, the commission concluded that only two regions were suitable for pilot voting schemes in 2004.

The North East is recommended as highly suitable to carry out an all-postal pilot scheme next June. There is broad support amongst the local authorities in the region, coupled with significant previous experience of trialing new methods of voting.

The commission also believes the East Midlands region is equipped to conduct its elections by an all-postal vote in 2004. The region has only a small proportion of local elections scheduled for next June and the capacity to deliver the pilot successfully.

The next region that best meets the criteria is Scotland. However, in the light of concerns expressed by all Scottish returning officers about delivering an all-postal pilot the commission does not feel able to recommend it for a pilot scheme in 2004.

Whilst the commission acknowledges that there is some enthusiasm to trial e-voting further next year, it also recognises the risks involved given the short timescale and the complexity of delivering an electronic pilot on a regional scale. It has therefore decided not to recommend an electronic pilot for next June.

Roger Creedon, chief executive of The Electoral Commission, says: 'We believe that the electoral process must remain relevant to voters' changing lifestyles and offer as much choice as possible. Running all postal ballots on a regional basis will build on the successful pilots held at local authority level in recent years and enable the new arrangements to be tested on a much larger scale. The commission will be evaluating the pilots to assess their success and that they offer a safe and welcomed alternative to traditional voting methods.'

The commission's recommendations have been submitted to the secretary of state for constitutional affairs and the minister of state for local and regional government.

The full report can be seen here.

Notes

1.The Electoral Commission is independent of government and aims to ensure openness and transparency in the financial affairs of Britain's political parties, and to increase public confidence and participation in the democratic process.

2.The elections to the European parliament on 10 June 2004 will be combined with local elections in England which would normally have been held in May.

3.The ten regions the commission could consider were: East Midlands, Eastern, North East, North West, South East, South West, West Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber, Scotland and Wales. The Bill doe s not extend to Northern Ireland, and explicitly rules out consideration of London and the region to be combined for European parliament elections with Gibraltar. The commission has recommended that that Gibraltar be combined with the South West region.

4.The commission was not asked to recommend the form that the pilot voting schemes should take, but has responded to the government's consultation on this issue. Its response can be seen at http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/templates/search/document.cfm/8864

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