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Scottish poll probe: e-counting gets 'hold off until safe' verdict

Not to blame, but not a fabulous idea

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Investigators looking into the cock-up that was the May elections in Scotland have issued their final report. Looking at the media coverage, you'd be forgiven for thinking they'd given the whole thing a clean bill of health.

Headlines proclaim the report's conclusion that the electronic counting process was not to blame for the fiasco. The much-quoted line "The Review team did not find any evidence that the electronic count contributed to the number of rejected ballot papers" can be found in black and white in the report, but it isn't the full and complete picture.

Turn to page 11 of the report, and you'll see that the reviewers actually conclude that if we're going to have the Single Transferable Vote system, then we're probably stuck with electronic counting.

But the final recommendation is: "The report strongly recommends against introducing electronic voting for the 2011 elections, until the electronic counting problems from the 2007 elections are resolved."

The reviewers also note that "Electronic counting technology involves some operational risk", which is a world away from saying that electronic counting is a good thing.

The reviewers note that for people to have confidence in the vote count, the emphasis should be on the quality of decision-making, rather than the absolute speed with which a result could be returned. It suggests that in future there should be a back-up plan to count manually, and that all ballots flagged as doubtful by machines should be sent to a returning officer for a final decision.

In May this year, seven constituencies had to abandon the electronic counters, amid accusations of computer crashes and scanners failing to cope with folded ballot papers.

It later emerged that more than 140,000 ballots were declared spoiled. Some 70,000 of these were rejected by the counting machines with no human oversight, effectively disenfranchising almost two per cent of the voting public. First Minister Alex Salmond described the news as "astonishing", and deeply disturbing. ®

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