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Reflecting back and projecting forward July 30, 2006

Posted by Mary Reid in Commentary, Reflections.

mary_reid.jpgBack home in the UK and doing mayoral things, although I nearly didn’t get away from Budapest last night because of intense thunder storms over central Europe.

Some reflections after a stimulating week…

I was very struck with the general understanding of e-participation and the wide knowledge of its tools. This was in marked contrast to two or three years ago when we were having to start from the beginning to explain it at conferences.

Councillor Paul Bettison, the Leader of Bracknell Forest Council in England, ran through all the tools currently available, from online panels, through e-petitions to councillors websites. Paul leads on e-government for the Local Government Association, and is a strong advocate of smart cards, but he has not been directly involved in the Local e-Democracy National Project. So it was a huge pleasure to realise that the National Project has done its job in raising awareness of e-participation and getting councils to think about how to increase democratic interaction with citizens.

The discussions elsewhere on e-voting turned on the need to build the trust of citizens and also of administrators. We heard of many technological solutions – validation and verification, third party testing and evaluation – but I wonder if it is really such a problem. Citizens already trust the National Lottery in the UK, not to mention reality show voting.

For me the key test is whether the candidates trust it. After all, in traditional paper voting they can check the counting of the votes in a very open and straightforward fashion, and can ask for a recount if necessary. If the results are simply posted by the software, no amount of reassurance about independent auditing of the systems will convince them unless they can check with their own eyes.

I’m not against e-voting at all, but it must pass the candidate satisfaction test for me before I would be happy to accept it. Having made these comments in the hall some e-voting suppliers caught me and were keen to explain that once international standards had been adopted it would be possible for political parties to commission their own third party systems which could then interrogate the voting system and verify the results. I’d be very interested in seeing this, though I’m not sure how accessible this would be to independent candidates in small local elections.

Finally, the symposium was enlivened by the presence of several young people, most of them members of the UK Youth Parliament. They contributed to all the sessions but particularly to the one on ‘Engaging Young People’, where we heard from Shane McCracken from Gallomanor about ‘I’m a councillor, get me out of here’.

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