Database delay could scupper Whitehall's e-voting timetable

Government ambitions to have online voting in place by the next election could be hampered by further delays to a key national IT...

Government ambitions to have online voting in place by the next election could be hampered by further delays to a key national IT project

The Local Authorities' Secure Electoral Register (Laser) project, which aims to create a nationally-searchable electoral register by linking more than 400 local authority databases, will play an important role in supporting a secure and accessible online voting system.

The register was due to be in place by early this year but the supplier contracts have not yet been signed. The tender process for the project was announced more than a year ago. IT services firm Unisys and Intelligent Addressing are understood to be among shortlisted suppliers.

However, the Laser project was stalled after the High Court ruled last November that the sale of electoral register information breached data protection and human rights laws. This prompted local authorities to suspend sales of the electoral register for commercial use.

Another reason cited for Laser's delay is that responsibility for the project has
been switched from the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions to the Lord Chancellor's Department.

A spokeswoman for the division of the Lord Chancellor's Department that is leading the project said it is unknown when work on Laser will start. She added that it has been allocated £12m from the Government's Capital Modernisation Fund.

One supplier shortlisted for the project said the "snail's-pace progress" on the initiative was beginning to raise questions over the Government's determination to push through key IT initiatives. "If every project takes a year before it is signed it does call into question the Government's commitment to e-government," he said.
Online voting at a general election would be possible without a nationally-accessible electoral register, but the task would be made much harder.

Currently, every local authority in England and Wales maintains its own electoral register and there are no common data standards for the way information is stored.

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