Agenda item

Elections Review Task and Finish Group - Interim Report (Agenda Item 7)

To receive an interim report from the Elections Review Task and Finish Group.


Members may wish to note that the evaluation report on behalf of the Electoral Commission on the e-counting pilot scheme is due to be published on 2nd August, which will give an opportunity for that to be taken into account, or conclusions compared with those of the Working Group.


The Scrutiny Officer presented the interim report of the Working Group, which had been established to examine issues surrounding the local elections on 3rd May, with particular regard to the e-counting pilot.


The review was being conducted in two parts: part 1 looked at the counting of votes, the initial findings of which were set out in the interim report.  Part 2 would look at other relevant issues such as polling stations and training of polling of staff, etc.  A final report would be submitted to the Commission in due course.


Members also had regard to the official report on the Breckland electronic counting pilot published by the Electoral Commission on 2nd August 2007.


Members felt that the Electoral Commission’s criticism of Breckland was unfair and that Indra should be held much more accountable for the failings of their electronic voting system.


Members strongly expressed their appreciation and support for the way in which the Returning Officer and his staff had conducted themselves during the very difficult circumstances of the count, which was always a stressful event at the best of times.


The Electoral Commission’s admission that not least of the factors contributing to the problems experienced was that there had been insufficient time for testing and planning of the system was felt to be extraordinary.  Some of the blame for this, it was felt, lay with the Government, who had also recommended Indra as one of the providers for the pilot.


A member questioned the fact that Indra appeared not to accept any responsibility for the problems experienced with the operation of the system, despite their claim that they had operated successful electronic counts elsewhere both in this country and abroad.   Why, therefore, should this count have been so markedly different compared to the others?


The only aspect which a member felt the Council should have noticed at the time of scanning of ballots was in the two cases of discrepancies in the counting of votes in two wards.  However, the member felt that this was also part of the role of election agents and therefore they should also have noted and reported the discrepancies at the time, rather than to make allegations after the event.


Another member made reference to the costs of the pilot as compared to those for a manual count, and bearing in mind the questions which had been raised about the Indra’s responsibility for the problems encountered, he wondered whether the Electoral Commission intended to make full payment to them for the pilot and suggested they should not.


In concluding that neither of the objectives of the electronic count – which had been to improve accuracy and to improve the speed of counting – had been achieved, the Chairman raised the question of whether the Council should not have anything to do with electronic counting in future, or whether, despite the problems experienced in this instance, it was something the Council might look at again?


So far as the second part of the review of the elections was concerned, members concurred with the view that there would be no duplication with that of the statutory review of polling districts and places to be carried out by the General Purposes Committee.


In closing its debate, the Commission


         RESOLVED that the conclusion drawn from the interim report is that a traditional manual count is a core part of the English democratic process and should not be changed.


Supporting documents: