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back to article Voting chaos in not-fit-for-purpose electoral system

As the dust cleared on a strangely uneventful election night, two aspects of the supposedly cast-iron British electoral system may finally have been found to be "not fit for purpose". First up is the antiquated and now thoroughly discredited way in which we, the electorate, express our views about our would-be politicians …

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true, but

evoting from home? stand by for a lose of the secret ballot and the fear of a phished election

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WTF?

Did I read that correctly?

How could this happen? After all, since the dawn of the 21st century, the system has been very simple: we just visit vote.gov.uk, tap in our unique voter number, and press a button to indicate which party we want to vote for. Voting closes at 10 pm - and the national result is declared some 60 seconds later.

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And here we build the tools of Tyrany. I think we've seen exactly (thanks to Diebold) what happens with electronic voting without a paper trail. One guy gets too many votes, and the other guy gets a negative number of votes.

There can be no true faith in our vote if there is not a physical vote to count. I'd have thought a technology news website would know all to well how easy electronic data can be manipulated. Guess I thought wrong.

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FAIL

Time for a change

I went to my polling station before 8am on Thursday. Even then, with only 4 people in the queue ahead of me it took 5 minutes to get a ballot paper. I could see then that there was going to be problems later in the day - and if I can see it, it is a monumental failure of the electoral clerks and returning officers that they didn't also see it.

So, the voting mechanics are as broken in Britain as they are in any third world country. Firstly, Britain has to stop preaching that "we know best because we are the mother of parliaments". The sight of voters locked out of polling stations shows we have the mother of embarrassments.

Why is it so difficult to get a proper, secure, computerized voting system? And no, I don't think that this needs an ID scheme to do it. Surely we can issue people with a voter registration system that depends on something you have (a voter card) and something you know (a PIN for example). You could go to any PC, enter the two items and vote - if this is safe enough for ATM's why is it not safe enough for voting?

After the fiasco of last night we would actually have been better handing the whole voting issue to Simon Cowell and do it one a telephone poll. Then we still get the muppets from Britains Got Talent, but at least we make the election in to cash generator.

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Anonymous Coward

Unlucky

I went at quarter to seven after my tea. Had my ballot marked and in the box within a minute of entering.

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"safe enough for ATMs"

You can't be serious - have you been under a rock for the last 10 years?

An ATM transaction isn't a secret - you know how much you took out, and so does your Bank, and there's a transaction record to keep track of the transaction.

A vote is a secret - nobody knows how you voted, and once your ballot paper goes into the box, it can't be traced back to you (ballot paper serial numbers aside - that's a whole different argument).

You'd probably be quite pleased to get a call from your bank to say "Someone just tried to buy jewelry with your credit card in Hong Kong - was that really your transaction?". I'm sure you'd be a lot less sanguine about it if you got a call from the Returning Officer the week after an Election saying "We know that you've voted for Party X all your life, but we noticed that you voted for Party Z last week - was there an error, or should we discount that vote?"

Computerizing elections doesn't generate any benefits for society - certainly not enough to justify the cost of equipment that will only be used 3 or 4 times per decade.

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Go

much better, thank you

See, the Register can write a balanced and thought-provoking political article (with a tech angle|) when it wants to...

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There is another way

..you could register to vote by post. I cast my vote last week.

Of course then you have to worry about yet more fraud :)

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Anonymous Coward

Proportional Representation

Anything else will be a con..

I can see Cameron now, he wants another election ASAP, he thinks if he accuses the libs of using a minority to demand PR then he can kibosh any agreement and drag parliament back to the people.

I think that Britain has made a big mistake and Murdock is laughing his cock off

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Happy

Poor Campagins

Lord please spare us from more baby kissing.

Cameron may have his own troubles given that he will be shouldering the blame for an unsuccessful* Tory campagain.

Interesting times, and I feel fine :^)

* (I know the Tories have the greater number of seats, and Cameron did likely try everything he could, but after the Tory faithful conceeding a lot of deeply held and irrational prejedices in the name of modernisation they might not be happy with the lacklustre victory that Cameron has delivered).

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Anonymous Coward

qwertuiop and/or 1234567890

"The system has evolved little since the early days of the last century. Its reliance on physical processes means that the scope for error is huge"

And what effect do you imagine electronic voting will have on the scope for error?

Are you aware of the track record of public sector IT?

Yer 'avin' a larf.

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Big Brother

Bring on the STV and PR

Based on the voting % after 601 declarations, using the BBC News voter numbers, with a decent electoral system the seat counts ought to be:

Conservatives 36.3% 236 seats

Labour 28.9% 188 seats

LibDems 22.9% 149 seats

Others 11.9% 77 seats

We have, once again, been thoroughly shafted by an antique electoral practise and by a house of commons that care more about themselves than really doing anything practical and useful for this country.

Bastards.

Big Brother? Yep, he's raising his ugly mug again after hiding it during the campaign in the name of public relations.

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Anonymous Coward

paperless voting

One minor correction: you do not need to carry that piece of paper they sent you in the post to vote.

Just give them your name and address when you arrive. Nothing more is needed.

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Nothing more is needed.

No, you don't need anything more, but that slows down the whole process for everyone else (as mentioned in another post elsewhere, staff were taking between 40 seconds and one minute to deal with each voter, the extra time depending on if they had their polling card or not).

Oh and I accidentally upvoted that post instead of hitting "reply"...

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FAIL

BTDT

I suggest you google 'diebold' + 'election' before you criticise paper ballots ...

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Paris Hilton

True, true

True.

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Anonymous Coward

Physical, not reliable? Or lazyness just your own personal choice?

Is this The Register? Has your site been somehow taken control of by Diebold (or whatever their name is today)?

Since when a physical electoral process is less reliable than an electronic one? I've counted votes for years, and yes, I've made mistakes sometimes. And my neighbour noticed and we corrected.

When the blackbox makes a mistake and give a negative count for a candidate, it's harder to check why. Or when your kids votes for you. Or when husband votes for his wife. Or boss for his employees. Or the latest internet worm for half the Windows user population.

BTW, small suggestion: France votes on weekends. So most people don't have to go after work. At 8pm, it's over. No waiting queues.

Oh, but it's the French, so it must be inherently evil, right? And democracy is not worth moving your butt over one day every few years, clicking on a button from home is the maximum you can give it?

And waiting a few hours to count is so intolerable, you want results NOW. Or else, your attention span will be exhausted and you won't be able to get out of your latest iPhart application to go do your job as a reporter.

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Big Brother

This wombat votes on Saturdays

Australia votes on Saturdays.

Not every Saturday; but there's a thought! Imagine being able to vote "no confidence" for those warming the benches in Parliament and cause another election to be called by ad-hoc referendum.

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Anonymous Coward

We use this system because it works.

If you've got a better suggestion, go ahead. (I'm ignoring / laughing at your facetious statement about voting over the web.)

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Alert

Well....

In Australia, they Vote on a saturday, close the polls at 5pm, have manditory voting (so 100% turnout all done before 5pm) , and you can go to any polling station in your electorate. Each polling station has a couple of copies of the roll to speed things up.

No staying up all night to learn who the PM is, you'll probably know by midnight.

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Better suggestions?

Well, about the only system worse than yours is the American one.

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Electronic voting? Please no

Paper voting sucks, but it sucks in exactly the way democracy sucks - we have yet to come up with a better system. Here in the Netherlands, electronic voting was (rightfully) cast out of the window a couple of years ago, and given all the Reg coverage on how badbadbad voting machines are, I'm surprised to read, albeit between the lines, a call for electronic voting.

I'm not sure how this works in the UK, but in the Netherlands vote counting is a public process, where any citizen can come in after closing time and witness the counting. Sure, it's a fallible process, but it is trackable - voting machines are not.

As for your funny district system... yeah... get rid of it ;-)

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Pint

Not to be a pedant (but it's an IT news site so what can you expect)

"...the legitimacy of forming a government with the ringing endorsement of just over a third of the electorate"

It's just over a third of the people who voted, not the whole electorate, much less the British people (to badly paraphrase a man called Gil =)

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Grenade

Sorry was this the Guardian website?

It is the MPs not fit for purpose

Changing the Voting system will just lead to unfairness and problems in a different ways to the current system - and with the current MPs unlikely to give a better running of country

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Misrepresentative

"Labour, on 28.7 per cent have 232 seats - and Lib Dems, on 22.8 per cent, have 50 seats"

This can not be fair in anybody's election.

We are not Zimbabwe.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Misrepresentative

ShaggyDoggy wrote: "We are not Zimbabwe."

Erm, I wouldn't be so sure about that.

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Grenade

Led by the nose again!!!

For as long as this stupid fuc--ng system insures that only Labour or Tories can ever be elected, they will both support it, so it will never be changed. The British public are being led by the nose as always. The term "Hung Parliament" is a very simple and effective scare tactic, for the stupid British electorate. Anywhere else a "Hung Parliament" is known as a coalition government, and they work at least as well, if not better than simple majorities, as the views of the electorate are much better represented.

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Nooooo....

A Hung paliment is not a coalition government... A coalition government is formed in the event of a Hung Parliament, or it can be a minority government. They are known the same way all over the EU.

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Anonymous Coward

Scope for error

With respect to our voting system you say, "Its reliance on physical processes means that the scope for error is huge"

Why is the scope for error better or worse the other means? I've noticed that reliance on electronic processes or IT doesn't seem to improve reliability - in fact, it seems to leave us open to some truly catastrophic botch-ups. Physical processes, i.e. people handling pieces of paper, does have an identifiable margin for error, but is really very dependable.

To my mind, the most notable problem is that the number of seats apportioned to the various parties doesn't seem even close to the proportion of the vote they received. For example (at the time of writing) the Lib Dems have about 8% of the total seats despite receiving about 23% of the votes, yet Labour have about 37% of the seats from 29% of the votes. How does this make sense?

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Go

Scope for inefficiency

I think we can let the Reg of for using a less than brillant IT angle to open up a wedge in to the bigger story of the, in general, brokendown general election.

Lets tally it all up:

* Requires 10 days notice to register to vote,

* relies on the royal mail to deliver the details of where you vote,

* assumes you have enough local knowledge (hard if like most people you are not local) to find the polling station,

* assumes that the registration process works and your name will actually show up on the register at the local polling station (good luck if you end up at some other polling station), and

* as last night showed it all assumes that the largely volunteer staffed polling stations are smart enough and resourced enough to handle the sporadic voting that comes from an society working more and unusual hours than any other European democracy.

Of all of the above assumes that you are in a three marginal where you vote might actual be purposefully cast for the party of your choice, or second best you are in a marginal where you can at least vote out/down a party you detest/fear, but most likely is you'll be in a seat where hardly anything ever happens.

(Note on personal bias, being from N.Ireland, where nothing has much changed in 100 years of "democracy", I'm a might more cynical than most, though perhaps no more than most Reg commentators).

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Troll

Sir

Just who are these people who voted Labour? Are they mentally insane?

If you voted Labour, could you explain what 'benefits' you have received from this government that was worth £170bn of national debt? I really am curious.

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Anonymous Coward

According to my father in law

GB got us in to this mess so he is best placed to get us out of it. I kid you not... He is a hardcore labour voter.

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Sir

In principle, that's not as ludicrous as it first sounds, but it very much depends on the personality involved.

If the person who made the mistake recognises it as a mistake, understands why it happened and resolves to learn from it (assuming they are capable) having taken full responsibility for it, then yes - this person is the right one to fix the mistake.

The problem arises when you're faced with politicians who, by their very nature, are completely incapable of doing the above.

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WTF?

Polling Reform Suggestions

1. Consider advance poll days, where people can vote in person ahead of polling day. In Canada we have 3 of them, usually one in each of the three weeks ahead of the election.

2. Consider shifting your polling day to Saturday or Sunday or both.

3. If you go to voting machines, use the optical reader type so there is a voter created paper trail for re-counts. (These are used in local elections in Canada, where people may be voting on 10 to 30 different things, and work well. It is paper ballots federally, because each voter only makes one choice.)

4. The US has had terrible integrity problems with electronic-only voting machines and machines that electronically produce a paper trail. Avoid those. Problems include hacking and breakdowns.

5. You've had problems with fraud and postal ballots. Probably you should curtail those.

6. We all know the internet is not secure enough for something as important as federal elections.

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Grenade

Bah!

Those dribbling cretins have had THIRTEEN years to sort out the mess that is the British electoral system, but it takes until exit polls indicate that they're going to lose big-time before the likes of Lord Voldemort and Piers "Morgan" Moron come out and say so. I don't which is worse: the incompetence of this shower of dunces or having to go on record that Moron and I agree on something.

(Exit, pursued by a Bloke waving a Conservative Party membership application form)

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LPF
FAIL

Oh this again....

Considering the fact that you comment on the IT industry, how you can bring up the failed, "Why don't we vote over the Internet?" argument is astonishing!

The reason we don't is because quite simple, knowing that the government of a country could be decided by electronic votes, would present a huge target for both a corporation or more likely a foreign government to find a way to defeat its security and affect the results.

Any current encryption system can be defeated if sufficient resources are thrown at it. The Banks lose millions every year, but hush it up rather than publish what happened, to protect confidence in their institutions, and their encryption is pretty much the best going commercially.

India has a billions people and manages to hold elections using paper, it has nothing to do with using the NET or not, they simple failed to anticipate how many people wanted to vote and instead of being sensible and allowing the stations to stay open, they cut people off.

Jobsworths are the bain of us all.

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Stop

Online voting

OK, so you need to authenticate, possibly we should give everybody a physical means of identifying themselves (after all, numbers and ID strings can be copied), and mandate a way of electronically reading these securely on someone's own PC.

So you are now supporting ID cards, with card readers, attached to PC's with trusted and supported operating systems with DRM built in - say Windows running either Vista or Windows 7. This is what the industry advisers who will be engaged by any government will say. Win for Microsoft and the PC makers, don't you think!

What happens to people who can't or won't invest to do this? There will not be sufficient demand for polling stations, so would you install PC's in Post Offices or Libraries (oops, none of these left), or possibly Pubs (rapidly going the same way in small villages)? Will we have a underclass of people who can't vote because they live in the country and have limited transport options?

I really don't think this is what you want.

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Electronic voting - worst possible solution?

At least we still use a tangible, reviewable system that holds a physical record of what voters expressed. It may take a bit of time (although overnight - not that much) and it might seem "old fashioned" to require actual paper, However, it instills a confidence in voters that their vote does, actually have a reality that pressing a button or clicking a website simply does not.

The only real problem is that it's possible to determine which voter used which ballot paper, thereby creating a trail from person to their vote. While there's no evidence that this has (ever) been misused, it opens the possibility of some undesirables finding out who voted for which candidate.

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FAIL

Proportional representation

I tend to agree that we need to look at PR as the first past the post system is not compatible with party politics.

Either you should vote for a local person that actually does what he/she thinks is in the best interests of their constituents (and for this to happen you need to effectively neuter the party system and make the post of whip illegal) or you should vote for a party. If it is the latter we should have Proportional Representation so the number of seats obtained by a party actually reflects the number of people that voted for it.

At the moment our system is undemocratic and not fit for purpose.

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Grenade

Look at the Bottom of the World

Here in the colonies we have got it partly right with MMP, minority parties rule with supply and confidence agreements. This means the parties have to negioate with the other parties and limits how radical they can get.

Maurice

New Zealand

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Thumb Up

Hear, hear!

I've been trying to get this point across to my colleagues for weeks. They don't get it. But then I do work for a large bank, so democracy, honesty and integrity, aren't really words they've ever understood(or want to hear).

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Well done!

I have to say thats probably the best description of the current problem ive read so far. Well done!

Its not that proportional representation is better, but the fact is that party politics means that the current system isnt working!

In Aus, we have first-past-the-post constituent voting for the House of Representatives (equivalent to UK House of Commons) and proportional voting for the Senate (equivalent to UK House of Lords). This system seems to work pretty well. Maybe you need to start copying the colonies... ;)

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More Rats

Might also help to make smaller constituencies so that one person can at least attempt to engage with the people that they are supposed to represent, and with most MPs representing 40,000 people it's a bit much to expect one person to even meet those people let alone know them well enough to represent their views. As things stand in order to consult every constituent an MP would need to meet 2000 people a week, every week, for four years.

Of course with more MPs we also need to ensure they are kept busy in Parliament with purposeful jobs rather than letting them hang around until whipped in to the voting chambers, but that change is even more unlikely that voting reform.

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Coat

Australia's not "first-past-the-post"

There's a system of preferential voting, unless you count the post as being the 50% of all possible votes.

http://www.aec.gov.au/Voting/counting/hor_count.htm

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Pint

labour.. p*ss up in a brewery

Cant even put an election together properly... just about sums up Labour's incompetence

I quite enjoyed the 3mile round trip walk through bluebell filled woodland to the polling station, which just happened to be next to the village pub.. very handy

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FAIL

Remove Head From Rectum Before Typing

The Labour party is not in any way responsible for the planning, management or execution the general election. That duty falls to each local councils (unelected and apolitical) chief returning officer.

This is a long standing and quite deliberate part of the British electoral system, ensuring that the running of the vote is separated from political interference.

If issues were experienced in your ward then you should take them up with the returning officer and not try to use it as an excuse to try and express some partisan political opinion.

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FAIL

sums it all up

Consider :

a public job

easy , fixed rules eg voting STOPS at 10.00 pm prompt.

almost five years to organise a single day, processes exactly as before.

a known maximum quantity of participants, hell, they even provide a list.

It seems almost too easy. It is.

And yet public workers fuck it up, break the law in some instances ( allegedly ) and still keep their jobs for the next time around.

Question for our antipodean commentards : room for one more ( million, i suspect ) voter?

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Welcome

Well

if we reverted to the 'Divine Right of Kings', we wouldn't have all these problems and we would allways know who was ripping us off!

They wouldn't need to fiddle their expenses either. We already pay for them so why should they not earn their living like the rest of us.

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Anonymous Coward

funny

That's why I put a big 'X' through my entire paper and simply wrote "The Queen: democracy has failed".

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Silver badge

"the scope for error is huge"

You're talking about Diebold voting machines now, aren't you ?

Paper balloting is not perfect, just as about anything that humans are up to these days, but the traceability and indeed the very lack of technology ensures that the results are verifiable and accountable.

Voting machines, such as the ones made by Diebold (who has since distanced itself as much as possible from the problem), are another problem entirely. To the various security issues that are purely hardware and software-based, you can add lack of traceability and the very possible ability to fudge results without any control.

I prefer paper ballots any day.

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Flame

Forget it

It's either blind stupidity, the grey vote decided to vote for 'the least scary party' or tactical voting to force a hung parliament - despite that it's a wasted chance.

I'm gearing up to get an immigrant visa to another country (not saying which one so you can't follow me) - I really can't stomach this one any more. How can I stay when I have little respect for the pitiful, cowardly, ignorant populace!

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