ELECT, a new Internet-based facility to help voters access impartial information
about election candidates has got the official go-ahead, plus substantial
funding for their Active Citizenship project from the Electoral Commission
New Initiatives Fund, their first grant to an English project.
ELECT will be interactive, so voters will be able to quiz MPs and Councillors
about their views on important issues like crime, the Euro, or Iraq. There
will be regular ‘chat’ sessions at which people will be able to
find out what their local councillors really think about questions that may
have been troubling them.
Initially, “Active Citizenship” will concentrate only on North
East Lincolnshire affairs. However if it’s successful, it will be rolled
out across the whole of the UK. There are also possibilities of further trials
in other countries. Incredibly, this is the first time that any scheme of
this nature, on this scale, has been attempted anywhere in the world!
“Active Citizenship” will be launched officially
on February 18 at a conference to be held at the Europarc Innovation Centre
in Grimsby. Anyone interested can log on now to see how it works. A pilot
scheme involving parliamentary candidates from Grimsby and Cleethorpes in
June 2001 and those in the Doncaster Mayoral Elections in May 2002 is already
live. Interested voters should log on to www.electionsuk.org.
In January 2001, a chance remark by Austin Mitchell, MP
for Great Grimsby, about the next election being ‘the first election
of the Internet Era’, got Richard Bellamy, a former electoral Returning
Officer, to work out a completely original idea for an impartial election
Now Richard Bellamy has set up Electoral Education Limited,
a company designed to combat voter apathy and increase turn-out in local and
national elections. He was joined in its development by Peter Lacey, Deputy
Director of Education for North East Lincolnshire and John Trevitt, Managing
Director of Immage Studios and Channel Seven.
ELECT has the backing of a working group consisting of Austin
Mitchell, MP for Great Grimsby and vice President of the Hansard Society,
Professor The Lord Norton of Louth, Professor of Government at the University
of Hull & Chairman of the House of Lords Constitution Committee, Muriel
Barker CBE, of Yorkshire Forward and herself a councillor in N.E.Lincolnshire,
Dr. Christina Leston-Bandeira, Co-ordinator of the MA in Legislative Studies
online, University of Hull, and many other important advocates of raising
political awareness among the community, particularly the younger generation.
In the run-up to national and local elections, ELECT will
manage websites that will include candidates’ information, plus statements
and comments they may make about important issues. A novel feature is that
voters will be able to click on and hear candidates saying in their own words
answers to questions that people want to know. Voters will also be able to
get information and question candidates through email and messageboards under
the professional guidance of Chatmoderators..
Prospective candidates in forthcoming local elections are
invited to contact Richard Bellamy on 01472 580 708 to make use of the service
or for further information.
Peers, MPs and councillors from all three major political
parties have examined the scheme and are solidly behind it. “This is
a valuable initiative which uses the Web in innovative ways - especially the
audio messages from candidates” says Dr. Stephen Coleman, Professor
of e-democracy at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford and
senior research associate with the Hansard Society's E-Democracy Programme.
Potential voters will have a better opportunity to
judge candidates’ sincerity and commitment than just reading a leaflet
pushed through their door. It’s hoped that this will encourage people
to be less cynical about elections because they will be able to get a balanced
and impartial view of every candidate. The service will remain active between
elections and provide opportunities for debate on topical issues.