February 28, 2007 | Jason Kitcat

Committee on Standards of Public Life call for halt of May e-voting pilots

Yesterday, Sir Alistair Graham, chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, called for the 2007 electoral pilots in the UK to be halted, in a speech to the Association of Electoral Administrators conference. Sir Alistair's committee has recently published a report on the Electoral Commission calling for major reform of both the commission and our electoral system, particularly with regard to fraud.

Sir Alistair is proving to be a strong, independent new voice in the debate concerning our electoral system. His speech today made every point we would like to make and then some. Even though electoral fraud undermines voter confidence, is the DCA's and the Electoral Commission's focus on increasing participation causing them to turn a blind eye to fraud? Given existing problems with fraud and unsatisfactory systems for combating fraud, is it appropriate to rush ahead with pilot schemes?

Sir Alistair also argued that the government had been entirely misleading in their use of statistics from Northern Ireland, which has a much stricter electoral regime than the rest of the UK. Sir Alistair argued that in the long term new measures in Northern Ireland had not been damaging to participation as the DCA had argued, and that we should be replicating those measures across the rest of the UK.

The debate continued on BBC Radio 4's The World at One where Sir Alistair argued that the DCA's priorities were wrong, saying that "we should be concentrating on safeguarding the integrity of the current voting system rather than experimenting in remote systems which are bound to carry a high risk".

In an absurd argument, David Monks, Chief Executive and returning officer for Huntingdonshire, stated that if we don't pilot new voting technologies the fraudsters will have won by preventing changes which benefit society and meet our new modern lifestyles.

Finally, DCA minister Bridget Prentice MP replied to Sir Alistair by saying that he was "just plain wrong". She didn't accept any of his arguments whatsoever. She also ignored the implications of this week's visit by a Council of Europe delegation assessing whether the UK's electoral system needs to be monitored for fraud, along with many former Soviet republics.

We briefly met the Council of Europe delegation on Monday, giving them copies of the ORG e-voting briefing pack. They seemed to be deeply concerned by the level of worry about fraud in the UK. Indeed, my analysis of 2006 opinion research for the Electoral Commission shows that the public clearly want secret and secure votes ahead of anything else like convenience. Furthermore, political issues were shown to be the main barriers to turnout and not ease of voting.

As Sir Alistair puts it, "deep-seated voter disengagement will not be solved by tinkering with the mechanics of the electoral system".

Comments (4)

  1. Becky Hogge:
    Mar 04, 2007 at 02:00 PM

    Hi Daniel

    Thanks for your comment. Although ORG is very grateful for Jason's work in coordinating our campaign, it's my pleasure to reassure you that all of ORG's documents and positions are jointly agreed by all of ORG's e-voting experts, and by our Board and Advisory Council (none of whom are employed by e-voting companies).

    Becky Hogge
    Executive Director, ORG.

  2. Daniel Gray:
    Mar 04, 2007 at 03:48 PM

    Hi Becky,

    Thanks for that (was that e-voting company reference a jibe? Because I've always been completely open about that). Was wondering if you could clarify the ORGs overall position on evoting for me. Are ORG totally opposed to any form of electronic voting?

  3. Daniel Gray:
    Mar 04, 2007 at 04:01 PM

    Hello again Becky,

    Just thought of something else. Could I ask why ORG included the following statement in the eVoting briefing pack?

    "Indeed TV production companies encourage multiple-voting as a way to increase their revenue from each vote cast. For the very enthusiastic fan, software is available on the internet which automates dialing, allowing a single individual to vote hundreds of times."

    Whilst factually correct, it has no bearing on the issue of voting via the telephone. It, as far as I can tell, merely seeks to imply that it would be possible to vote multiple times in a telephone vote. Which of course would not be the case. All credentials would be single use, unless a system was used that allowed multiple votes with only the last (or first, depending on the setup being used).

    If the ORGs case is so strong, why include such statements? They're not relevant and seek only to mislead.

    Kind regards

    Daniel Gray

  4. Daniel Gray:
    Mar 02, 2007 at 12:17 AM

    Interesting spin you've managed to put on this story. The main problems, as I read the speech, are in the registration phase. Sir Graham is only calling for a halt to the pilots (note: they're not all eVoting, so calling them eVoting pilots is a misleading) until the elector registration can be fixed. His wording around eVoting specifically wasn't very strong. There's some mention, but only in a way that compares it with the present postal voting system.

    As an aside, is ORG now the general mouth piece of Jason Kitcat re: electoral processes outside the eVoting arena? He seems to have bent your purpose a little.

    Oh and by the way, why is GNU.Free still available Jason? Seriously, I'm not going to stop asking that, and don't fob me off with the previous page you pointed me at, it doesn't explain the contradiction one iota.

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