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Electoral Commission criticises London e-counting

'Significant concerns'

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The Electoral Commission has registered concerns over the electronic counting of votes in London's recent elections.

It highlights a number of issues in a report on the elections for the mayor and the London Assembly. Among these are apparent discrepancies between the number of ballot papers recorded as having been issued and the number scanned.

It also expresses concern at the high level of technical knowledge required to understand and properly scrutinise electronic counting systems, and errors in the transmission of results data to the central count collation centre at City Hall. Also, the Commission was not able to review the results of quality assurance audits before the publication of the report.

Overall, however, it says that electronic counting was better planned and managed than at previous elections where votes had been counted electronically.

Its findings reflect those of an earlier report (pdf) from the Open Rights Group, which it accredited as an observer to the elections. This says that over-sensitive scanners could have caused some blank ballots to record votes, and that the screens by the scanners provided data that was meaningless to observers.

A spokesperson for London Elects, which organised the elections, suggested the problems had been overstated. He said the discrepancies over the number of ballot papers were due to human error rather than technology, and that the transmission errors affected only votes for the mayoral election in just two out of nearly 4,000 wards.

He acknowledged a difference in perspective on e-counting, but said: "We welcome the Commission's report on the election and will continue our fruitful relationship in working with them on the 2012 election."

The Electoral Commission called on the government to instigate a national strategy for using electronic counting before it is used in future UK elections. This should include carrying out a full cost-benefit analysis of electronic counting, an analysis of the legal changes required to support it, and appropriate safeguards to ensure it is accurate and transparent.

Andrew Scallan, director of electoral administration and boundaries for the Electoral Commission, said that overall the election was well-run, but that: "It is essential that the public can have confidence in all aspects of the electoral process and we still have significant concerns about the use of electronic counting for elections in the UK.

"We continue to press the government for a national strategy on the use of electronic counting and we also want to see the Greater London returning officer carry out a comparison of the costs and benefits of both electronic and manual options for counting ballot papers before the next GLA elections in 2012."

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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