What did happen to all those London mayoral votes?
We observe the election count
Last week, the nation turned out in record numbers (45 per cent) to decide who would run their local councils. In London, that meant voting Boris Johnson into what Ken Livingstone probably thought was his office for life.
Some time earlier, the Open Rights Group had called for volunteers to be part of an election observation mission, to see how the electronic counting process worked. In a burst of democratic fervour I signed up, and last Thursday found myself stalking down to a polling station in Hackney, wearing my official observer accreditation, and poking my nose in, in an official capacity.
Of course it took me a while to find the polling station. The local "youths" had been entertaining themselves by moving the signs to the polling station around. Arrows were pointing the wrong way, and some signs had been left outside people's houses. Of course, messing with access to the polls cannot be condoned, but I was impressed with one particular rearrangement of signs that sent hapless voters wandering literally in circles.
Having finally made my way to the station, I met one of the poll workers who muttered some things about the local "youths" in terms which I shall not repeat here, and set off to put the signs back in place. The presiding officer called the police, who tried to explain to the hooded BMX-ers that disenfranchising the public was not a highly regarded activity.
Broadly satisfied that democracy had not broken down at the polls, I headed home.
Bonfire of the ballot boxes
On Friday, I was dispatched to the Alexandra Palace counting centre. This is where ranks upon ranks of Fujitsu scanners would process hundreds of thousands of ballot papers, and ultimately determine who would be in charge at London's City Hall. Not the best choice perhaps, given the historic edifice's tendency to go up in flames. Nevertheless, we watched as the returning officer checked that the database had no data already in it, and the count began.
ORG has asked us not to discuss our findings until they have had a chance to complete their report. But it has been widely noted in the press that many of the ballot boxes were not properly sealed at the start of the count. This I certainly saw in all four of the constituencies being counted at Alexandra Palace. Some boxes seemed to have been improperly sealed, and may never have been closed. Others looked as though they could have been closed initially, but that the tape had not stuck properly.
The House of Lords isn't supposed to be democratic. The main point behind the House of Lords was that, as hereditary "nobility" the laws enacted by Parliament would not have as much effect on them as on the general public, so they could act as the closest thing to an "independant advisor" as you can have here.
Which in turn would mean that, if the HoL thought something was a Bad Idea and voted it down, the Government of the day could not force through something that was bad for the General Public.
Unfortunately noblese no longer obligee'd as much as it used to, so the HoL was seen as a gravy train for rich toffs who had no right to tell the Democratically Elected Government what should, or should not, be allowed into law, and a population that has never really grasped the idea of the social contract between a "Landed Lord" and his "subjects" agreeing that the HoL is an unnecessary anachronsim that does nothing more than prevent The People getting what they deserve...
So now we have The People gettting what they deserve, with GodEmperor Tory Blur's Brave New(Labour) World where a Government that seems increasingly at odds with it's governees can force through anything it likes using the Parliament Act, with no chance for anyone to protest.
And when the HoL does raise a concern (like over the abysmal wording in the "extreme porn" legislation), our caring, sharing Prime Minister forces it through anyway.
Y'know, with the Parliament Act, there really is no real obstacle to El Gordo changing English Law and making the current rules of 'no more than 5 years between elections' a thing of the past... who can stop him?
The House of Lords? No, he'll roll out the Parliament Act and undo the screws on their Zimmers.
The Public? Sorry, more than 12 people in one place is a threat to Public Order (since the Poll tax riots), likely to damage Social Cohesion and could be harbouring one or more Terrorists, so stand by to be picked up by the Thought Police for suspicious behaviour.
No danger of a military coup as the armed forces are too busy fighting wars of dubious justification overseas, and they don't have the manpower or equipment any more anyway.
Mine's the one with the one-way ticket to Rochester...
Paper, pencils and cardboard is the only way
Paper ballots, pencils and cardboard ballot boxes with tamper-proof seals have worked exceptionally well in every Australian election that I've observed.
Here's a few other tips the UK might also want to consider:
- hold your elections on SATURDAYS, when most people aren't at work. Then you can close the polls at 6pm and get a result before midnight
- give people the flexibility to vote at multiple locations, at least within their borough/region
- make voting compulsory
- replace first past the post with preferential voting
- elect your upper house (it is the 21st century, for f***ks sake)
Then perhaps you could look forward to turnout rates comparable to the 94.76% achieved at the last Australian Federal Election in November 2007 and governments that can actually claim a degree of legitimacy as they're elected with the approval (or at least grudging acquiescence) of at least 47% of the electorate. Add on an upper house elected on a different basis that (most of the time) the government does not control, and you've got a pretty democratic system with some good checks and balances.
Compare that with the 21% of the electorate that voted for Labour at the 2005 British general election and the 0% that voted for anyone in the House of Lords and you get a feel for just how undemocratic this country really is.
My girlriend is dutch and went off to vote - first time in her life she had voted using paper ballots, and without anyone asking for some sort of ID showing that she really was an eligible voter.
I find it quite amusing that everyone is getting their knickers in a twist about crypto, and privacy, and audit trails, and all the other tiny details, when it's trivially easy to stuff the electoral roll with ghost voters and have your party agents cast hundreds of votes each on your behalf. What good is it building a perfect system to guarantee that JD Farnsworth's vote is captured accurately and privately, if JD Farnsworth is a ghost? Get the basics right first, people.
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1687496.ece - at least 1 million ghost voters in England alone, if by some mischance the Times has it accurately.