This morning, in a "round table" event to discuss London’s election plans, ORG was told by Leo Boland, London's Chief Executive and returning officer, that he has personally taken the decision to e-count in London's 2012 elections, despite the fact that he has not yet received feedback on the GLA’s cost-benefit analysis, which revealed that e-counting would be more expensive and potentially less robust than manual counting.
The GLA has yet to receive a response on their analysis from the Electoral Commission or other concerned organizations like ORG.
The GLA is left in a very difficult position. Their cost benefit analysis did its best to skew the decision in favour of e-counting.
Despite the bias, e-counting was found to cost £1.5m more than a manual count, despite failing to compare like with like, or examining the savings that could be made within a manual count. Similarly, no attempt was made to assess how a quick manual count could be made.
The GLA is also left at the mercy of a mere two suppliers, who will both be asked by two election authorities (London and Scotland) to run elections in 2012.
Leo Boland in the meeting drew attention to the possibility of ‘moral hazard’ ie, the temptation for two companies to stitch up the bidding. But much more mundane problems exist purely because there is such limited choice.
If London asks just two bidders to run the election, then the chances of getting the level of service they need are much reduced, because there are so few other options.
The experience of 2008 showed that a lot of work must be done to ensure transparency, systems testing and analysis, and better verification of votes cast. ORG concluded in 2008 that the election could not be properly verified and declared safe and true.
The GLA will wish to consider ways to limit costs, including contracts that stretch over several elections. But this approach would have its own problems, by locking themselves into long running and potentially disatisfactory arrangements.
In Norway, elections officials are working to phase out the use of external contractors, who include one of the two companies that London seek to ask for a bid.
The GLA is putting its elections at serious risk of error and fraud if it gets these relationships wrong. Given the desire to charge ahead without proper analysis of its own Cost Benefit Analysis, and analysis of its suppliers, ORG is not confident that the GLA properly understands the risks it is taking.
Putting aside the risks from technical errors, failures or hacks the GLA have completely failed to make the case that spending £1.5m more on the 2012 election is the best way to spend London taxpayers' money.