August 19, 2019

Cost and security issues fuel concern for 2020 GLA elections

The Greater London Authority (GLA) Elections use e-counting machines to tally votes. These e-counting machines have been criticised by the Electoral Commission in successive reports. Not only do the machines often count votes incorrectly, they are also extremely expensive. The Electoral Commission has recommended in successive reports that a cost benefit analysis of e-counting be done, including a costing of manual counting. European Parliamentary elections, which use a similar voting system, are counted by hand in London.

For the 2020 elections, the cost of the machines has risen to £8.9 million. This is more than double the last time the contract for the machines was tendered (£4.1 million). In addition, elements of the contract have been subcontracted to Smartmatic, a Venezuelan company with a poor track record of running elections, and alleged links to the Venezuelan Government. The Greater London Returning Officer (GLRO), who oversees these statutory elections initially claimed that Smartmatic had previously run successful elections in Scotland. However this has since been found to be incorrect. The GLRO seems to be moving forward with this company despite their failure to vet them properly.

ORG is concerned that not only is e-counting an enormous waste of money, but that the poor reputation and performance history of Smartmatic risks undermining trust in the outcome of a statutory election.

Pascal Crowe, Data and Democracy Project Officer for Open Rights Group, said:

“This must be the biggest waste of money at City Hall since the Garden Bridge.

Private companies are using our democracy as a user-testing exercise for their products.

In addition, despite our protestations the GLRO seem to be pressing ahead with employing Smartmatic to run London’s elections.

In the post Cambridge Analytica world, with trust in democracy at an all time low, why has the GLRO allowed this unstable element into the mix?”

Notes to Editors
For further information please contact Federica Dadone, Communication Officer for Open Rights Group, at press@openrightsgroup.org or 0207 0961079.

Earlier articles tackling the matter are available here:
https://www.guardian-series.co.uk/news/17792154.cost-vote-counting-london-elections-set-double/
https://www.theregister.co.uk/2019/08/19/cost_and_delivery_concerns_raised_over_mayoral_ecounting_system/