The BBC reports to my total lack of surprise that E-voting failed to stir the public in the local elections and it still didn’t work that well, either. At least two of the 18 areas which tried it had to go back to paper after the technology failed. The Swindon “success story” had 11,000 people voting via the Internet and just 339 voting via digital TV out of an electorate of 137,000 – and of course we don’t know how many of these would have voted conventionally anyway. My guess is “quite a few”.
Quite apart from the already well-rehearsed arguments about why it doesn’t appear to make much of a difference to turn-out (“conventional” voting isn’t that much trouble to begin with, for example) I would add that technology tends to be used more the more it is used (if you see what I mean).
If people were used to using the Internet to deliberate with their local and national governments throughout the year, it might be a natural move to vote electronically too. Without that, you are asking people to jump through security hoops and learn often un-familiar technologies for a once in four years chance to make their voting experience slightly better. No wonder they don’t seem too keen.
Solve the democratic deficit with local government first, make the Internet a useful way for local government to engage with the public year-round second, and e-voting would at last become significantly used. Indeed, turnout would rise to the point where e-voting wouldn’t be sought as a solution to a desperate problem of voter disenchantment but would be just one more way for citizens to work with councils.
For more detail on the e-voting trials check this report from before the results were announced, including some sagely skeptical comments from one of my profs, Stephen Coleman.