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County Ballot Boxes Heading For The Bin?

An electronic voting system could be used for county council elections in Warwickshire next May at a cost of £250,000.

A handful of councils used different systems at the local election in May this year, with varying success in a bid to increase turnout and interest in local politics.

People in Coventry were able up to vote a week earlier than usual, giving them more chance to use their right to vote. It was seen to have limited success.

Stratford District Council took a different approach and threw away the ballot box, paper and pen and installed computers at its polling stations.

It was supposed to speed up the counting, but there were computer problems and results were not announced much faster than previous counts.

Using a new system for county elections would be a bigger affair with all 62 county seats in Warwickshire up for grabs in May.

It could mean up to 500 terminals needed for the event.

Ballots are usually counted in each of the five district council areas then sent to Shire Hall where an overall picture is drawn up.

At the last county elections, the voting took place the following days, as it coincided with a general election, and votes were MPs were counted first.

Councils have been warned that if a general election is called for the same day in May 2001 then the trial voting schemes will have to be abandoned.

County councillors are being asked if they want to have a go and using a trial scheme, but they will have to foot the cost themselves – likely to double the normal cost.

The options put to them are: 

  • using the present system, 

  • electronic voting (as Stratford did), 

  • postal voting, 

  • a combination of electronic and postal voting.

A report from officers suggests electronic voting should be considered but warns:

“The use of electronic voting in Stratford did not increase turnout despite the extensive publicity it received both locally and nationally.

“However, it was widely accepted by those voters who did turnout, particularly the older citizens, that it was simple and quick to use.

“The system proved to be very secure and results were produced more quickly than by using the manual system.”

The county council cabinet meets this week to discuss the options. Any applications to take part in trial schemes must be registered with the Home Office by October 27.

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CWN / Politics / Warwickshire County Council / 28 Sep 00

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