E-voting comedy of errors in Shakespeare's Stratford


Is this a cockup I see before me?


By Andrew Thomas: Friday 03 August 2007, 11:56


A TRIAL OF E-VOTING in the local council elections of this May ended in chaos as the electronic votes were chucked out following a catalogue of errors and the whole thing was recounted by hand, delaying results by several days.


Voters in Stratford upon Avon and neighbouring Warwick were the guinea pigs - along with a number of other local authorities - for a system put together by Software AG and e-voting 'specialist' Dominion Voting, neither of which had any experience of administering an election in the UK - a fact that, in hindsight, should be filed under 'glaringly-obvious'.


Had the e-count not been abandoned by a despairing returning officer, it would have cost an additional £3.88 per voter in Stratford and £2.08 in Warwick. The total cost for the e-count would have been £281,505 compared with an estimated cost of doing the whole thing manually of just £13,680.


The list of things that went wrong is far too extensive to repeat here, but if you want an example of how not to manage an IT project, look no further than the link at the end of this story. The highlights - if that is the correct word - of this sorry tale include the ballot boxes being redesigned so that the A4 ballot papers could be posted in them without folding. This didn't help much as many of the papers failed to be scanned correctly and had to be entered manually.


No proper test of the system was carried out and the meagre testing that did occur took place without any representative of the two councils involved being present. Ballot papers were delivered late and many were of such poor quality that they had to be reprinted, finally arriving the day before the election.


According to the Electoral Commission report:


The polls closed at 2200 on May 3. By 2330 all ballot boxes had been received from their respective polling stations. However, a delay in the checking of absent voting identifiers on postal voting statements meant that no postal ballots were delivered to the count area until around midnight, with the final ballots being delivered at 0345.


While scanning appeared to progress well, many batches had to be re-scanned. Ballots that were unable to be scanned after several attempts were removed for manual entry. Ballot papers could not be scanned for a number of reasons, including poor print quality and tears in some papers. The need to re-scan batches became particularly acute for the postal ballot papers, once delivered. Accordingly, batch sizes were reduced from 150 to 50 for scanning postal ballots.


By approximately 0100 on 4 May, the Returning Officer was ready to start adjudicating ballots in the elections to the Leamington Manor ward for the District Council and town council. It became clear early on that there was a high number of adjudications. As at the Stratford count, a significant number of adjudicated ballots were found to show a clear voting intention and should not have been referred, although no estimates equivalent to those for Stratford have been made available to the Commission.


At about 0145, adjudication for this contest was approximately two-thirds of the way through, when the terminal presented a blank screen where the adjudicated image should have been. The reason for this remains unclear.


By 0220 on 4 May 2007, no results had been declared. The Returning Officer therefore decided to suspend the count and subsequently sent candidates and agents home. The count was intended to begin again at 1pm later that same day. At 1540, a serious problem occurred: at one adjudication station, candidates’ surnames retrieved from the database did not match those contesting the relevant election. This called into question whether votes were being correctly allocated. It has been suggested by the supplier that this problem may be attributable to incorrect ballot image files having been copied during the reconfiguration process.


Consequently, at 1545 the Returning Officer assembled the candidates and agents to inform them that a decision had been made to abandon the e-count and that all the contests would be counted manually on 8 May 2007.


Oh, the four-day delay before the recount was caused because the hall being used was booked for another event, so the whole lot of them had to clear out. Please take the time to read and be gobsmacked by the report. You simply couldn't make this stuff up. µ



Electoral Commission report


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