August 2nd, 2007 at 11:59 UTC by Steven J. Murdoch
Today, the Electoral Commission released their evaluation reports on the May 2007 e-voting and e-counting pilots held in England. Each of the pilot areas has a report from the Electoral Commission and the e-counting trials are additionally covered by technical reports from Ovum, the Electoral Commission’s consultants. Each of the changes piloted receives its own summary report: electronic counting, electronic voting, advanced voting and signing in polling stations. Finally, there are a set of key findings, both from the Electoral Commission and from Ovum.
Richard Clayton and I acted as election observers for the Bedford e-counting trial, on behalf of the Open Rights Group, and our discussion of the resulting report can be found in an earlier post. I also gave a talk on a few of the key points.
The Commission’s criticism of e-counting and e-voting was scathing; concerning the latter saying that the “security risk involved was significant and unacceptable.” They recommend against further trials until the problems identified are resolved. Quality assurance and planning were found to be inadequate, predominantly stemming from insufficient timescales. In the case of the six e-counting trials, three were abandoned, two were delayed, leaving only one that could be classed as a success. Poor transparency and value for money are also cited as problems. More worryingly, the Commission identify a failure to learn from the lessons of previous pilot programmes.
The reports covering the Bedford trials largely match my personal experience of the count and add some details which were not available to the election observers (in particular, explaining that the reason for some of the system shutdowns was to permit re-configuration of the OCR algorithms, and that due to delays at the printing contractor, no testing with actual ballot papers was performed). One difference is that the Ovum report was more generous than the Commission report regarding the candidate perceptions, saying “Apart from the issue of time, none of the stakeholders questioned the integrity of the system or the results achieved.” This discrepancy could be because the Ovum and Commission representatives left before the midnight call for a recount, by candidates who had lost confidence in the integrity of the results.
There is much more detail to the reports than I have been able to summarise here, so if you are interested in electronic elections, I suggest you read them yourselves.
The Open Rights Group has in general welcomed the Electoral Commission’s report, but feel that the inherent problems resulting from the use of computers in elections have not been fully addressed. The results of the report have also been covered by the media, such as the BBC: “Halt e-voting, says election body” and The Guardian: “Electronic voting not safe, warns election watchdog”.