Already tested in last year's regional elections in Liguria, and during the European elections in June 2004, the electronic submission of ballot papers in the forthcoming Italian general election in April is expected to cut processing times by 65% to 70%. The system to be put in place, in the five selected regions, starts traditionally enough as voters tick their preferred candidate on their ballots. The real innovation comes next as the papers are scanned electronically at polling stations and relayed back to the Ministry of the Interior in Rome. Checks, controls and any eventual recounts will then be performed by computer far more quickly and, in theory, more efficiently than by hand.
The pan-European Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will be invited to observe the procedure, which will reduce the number of operations involved from nine to three. While the new scheme aids vote collection more than voters, there are also plans afoot for a credit-card style voting system whereby voters will vote electronically with a personalised (thumb-printed) plastic ballot card.