Tomorrow is Here

Mayoral Vote Can Not be Verified

by on Jul.06, 2008, under Politics

The Open Rights Group (ORG) will not verify the result of London’s May elections. Saying, “There is insufficient evidence available to allow independent observers to state reliably whether the results … are an accurate representation of voters’ intentions.”

The elections for the Mayor of London and the 25-member London Assembly are among the most important local elections in the UK. An independent body, London Elects, organizes them.

This year’s elections were the first in London under a new UK law allowing for officially sanctioned, independent observers. ORG was one such group.

Counting of ballot papers in these elections has been carried out electronically since 1999. ORG’s objectives were to monitor the electronic vote count, for increased risk of fraud or a danger to the secrecy of the ballot. ORG has previously expressed concern over the use of technology in elections, worrying it obscures the workings of elections from voters and candidates.

In a report produced this week, ORG commends London Elects for, “delivering the May 2008 elections without significant procedural hitches.” Also for, “spirit in which London Elects has sought to enhance transparency.”

However, ORG states that on the day of the count, efforts towards transparency around the recording of valid votes were, “nothing more than pretence.” Screens beside vote scanners showed almost meaningless data. Many ORG observers concluded that they were unable to verify whether valid votes were being recorded.

ORG highlight a number of other concerns, which include:

  • That due to disputes over commercial confidentiality, London Elects are unable to publish an audit, commissioned from KPMG, of some of the software used.
  • That there was equipment directly connected to the counting servers to which observers had limited or no access to.
  • The presence of error messages, bugs and system freezes indicating poor software quality.

The ORG report concludes, “Given these findings, ORG remains opposed to the introduction of e-counting in the United Kingdom, unless it can be proved cost-effective to adopt ORG‘s recommendations for increasing transparency around e-counting.”

Most people in the UK consider the UK election process to be clean. No one is challenging the results of May’s London elections. However for a governing body to have legitimacy, the electoral result must be independently verifiable. You do not have to go very far to see what happens if a defeated candidate does not accept the result of an election. An unverifiable, general election in which the opposition refuse to accept the result, would lead to political instability and chaos.

The UK government sees the introduction of e-democracy as a way to save money and increase voter participation. Yet, this is another election where there have been serious problems with the technology and procedures underpinning the democratic process. The government would do well to look into the issues raised by ORG.

Democracy on the cheap does not work.

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