Digital Privacy

Devote Your Day to Democracy #2: London elections

Update: The ORG Electionwatch08 pledge has succeeded in record time! Thanks to all of those who signed the pledge and agreed to dedicate 2 May 2008 to observing the electronic counting of votes for the London mayoral and London Assembly elections. Before the sun had set, 12 (and more) democracy enthusiasts had signed up. If you haven’t signed but you’d like to help – don’t worry. You can sign anytime before 1 March.

Image from Bedford polling station in May 2007, courtesy of Richard ClaytonThis May, 6 million Londoners are expected to vote for the Mayor of London and for London Assembly members. The next day, their votes will be electronically counted in three count centres across the capital. ORG is looking for 12 volunteers to devote their day to democracy and become ORG’s Electoral Commission-accredited election observers for the e-count, which takes place on 2 May 2008.

Last year, the Open Rights Group sent 25 volunteer election observers to observe electronic voting and electronic counting pilots in England, and to observe the electronic count in Scotland. The resulting report raised serious questions about the future of e-voting and e-counting in British elections, questions which were echoed in the Houses of Parliament and by the Electoral Commission. To read more about e-voting in the UK and across the world, download our briefing pack.

London Elects, the body that runs the London elections, invited Open Rights Group members to view its systems in November last year. Last week, they invited us to meet their technical team, and discuss their plans to audit their systems. We were impressed with the consideration London Elects had given to system security – a marked contrast to many of the e-voting and e-counting pilots we saw last year. London Elects have hired-in two independent consultancy firms to audit both their own processes and the source code of some of the software used to count the votes.

However, this “independent” scrutiny gives no hard and fast guarantees that systems won’t go wrong. And in terms of voter trust, it cannot replace the scrutiny of candidates, agents and independent observers on count night. Despite the Open Rights Group’s recommendations, London Elects have declined to include a sample manual recount of e-counted ballots in their process on the night. This makes independent scrutiny very difficult, and makes it even more vital that techno-literate independent observers like ORG are there to watch proceedings.

So if you think you’ve got what it takes to be an ORG election observer, sign our pledge on Pledgebank. We’ll provide you with full instructions on the kind of things that will be expected of you on the day. We’ll also supply a factsheet of what to look out for. We’ll expect you to stay at your allocated count centre until the count has finished, and to turn around a quick report for us afterwards. It would also be good if you could attend the Electoral Commission briefing for observers on 29 April.

If you live in or around London (or are willing to travel there) and you’d like to help out, please let us know by signing our pledge on Pledgebank.