Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Open letter to the UK about electoral reform: remember Scotlands 2007 election debacle

Before adopting the electoral reform known as AV, the United Kingdom should learn from Scotland’s 2007 election debacle. Making big changes (like adopting AV) in elections processes can create chaos that disenfranchises voters and easily hides election rigging.

The UK is strongly considering two proposals that undermine each other:

Making ballots more complex makes counting them more laborious. This incentivizes computerized vote counting. That is what happened in Scotland in 2007. The Electoral Reform Society recommended the ballots be counted by computers, not by hand.

The results of the electoral reform adopted by Scotland in 2007? Chaos and massive voter disenfranchisement:

Not so much an election as a national humiliation
Scotland’s voters were treated with arrogance and contempt
. May 7, 2007 ...More than 100,000 people – around one in 20 of those who voted – had their ballot papers rejected in the election: a figure so scandalous that analogies with hanging chads don’t really begin to describe it....

And now they are stuck with it - for the time being:

System used in 2007 will return for 2012 council polls Award election contract with caution – MSP The voting and counting system now synonymous with the election night debacle of 2007 will return for the council elections in 2012, the Scottish Government has confirmed
The government’s determination to stick with STV guarantees the return of electronic counting, because a manual count would take up to three days.

The group that promoted a vote ranking method to Scotland and now a vote ranking method for the United Kingdom, was once caught in rigging its own election.

Electoral Reform Society admits its vote was rigged
By Paul Lashmar Monday, 17 July 2000…
The Electoral Reform Society, the august body that conducts independent ballots for many organisations including trade unions, has suffered the embarrassment of its own ballot rigging scandal.

“This has been a major blow to the credibility of the society. It hasin the past had a reputation for honesty which is crucial when runningballots. The fact that members of the society would stoop to ballotrigging is very worrying.”

Will the UK both mandate election night counting and ultimately Approval Voting, also called AV? If so, will the UK also abandon hand counted paper ballots as did Scotland? Lets hope that voters and officials in the United Kingdom carefully consider the risks and consequences of making drastic changes to the electoral system.

What more efficient way to rig an election or disenfranchise voters than to create massive chaos? Mass chaos helps cloak any deliberate election fraud and works twice as well.

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Edinburgh said...

You really should check all the facts before writing rubbish like this.

The problem with the elections in Scotland in May 2007 had nothing to do with the introduction of STV-PR (a preferential voting system) for the local government elections.

The problems were caused by the unexpected failure of Scottish electors to cope with a combined ballot sheet for the Scottish Parliament elections which were held on the same day as the local government elections (as they had been in 1999 and 2003).

The PR voting system for the Scottish Parliament was not changed (the Additional Member System, also called MMP)in 2007, but instead of having two separate ballot papers as in 1999 and 2003, electors were given one ballot sheet with the two ballot papers in separate columns, left and right. In each column they had to mark only one "X". That change in the layout resulted in record numbers of rejected ballot papers in the Scottish Parliament elections.

So the problem had nothing to with the use of a preferential voting system or with the introduction of STV-PR.

Just for the record, future Scottish Parliament elections and local government elections in Scotland will be held on different days (next 2011 and 2012 respectively), and two separate "X" vote ballot papers will be used for the next Scottish Parliament elections. The next local government elections will be held by STV-PR.

Voter said...

The sad thing is Scotland gave up a transparent election system - hand counted paper ballots, for a black box system of optical scanners.

Because the government does not trust these voting machines, they are not going to use them for the parliamentary elections.

But sadly, the govt will still use this system they do not trust - to tally the STV votes.

As for the unhinging of the STV elections and Parliamentary, yes I knew that happened and that is in the articles I linked to.

You are welcome to comment here politely, but next time you call my blog posts "rubbish", you may expect to see your comment disappear into the vapor, just like 100,000 votes cast in Scotland's May 2007 election debacle.

Edinburgh said...

Optical scanning has been used successfully in several sets of public elections in the UK. The introduction of this technology has not raised any particular concerns among electors. We always have the original ballot papers should there be a demand for a manual count.

The decision not to use optical scanning for the two separate AMS ballot papers in future Scottish Parliament elections was not taken by the government - it was taken by the Scottish Parliament. And that decision was not taken because they did not trust the scanning system (NOT "voting machines - we don't use them here), but because they considered it would be quicker and less expensive. Our MSPs (like our MPs) have an obsession with getting "their" results as quickly as possible after the close of the polls, even when that means counting through the night.

The is no evidence that I know of that the "the government" does not trust the technology that will be used to process the STV ballot papers for the local government elections in 2012. Those STV-PR ballot papers could be sorted and counted manually, even using the WIGM counting rules, but it is more convenient and quicker to process them by scanning.

I do not how else I could have described your original post as it contained several serious mistakes and some deliberately misleading statements. This is all the more remarkable as you now claim to be familiar with the relevant sources.

Voter said...

Edinburgh, there have been problems with optical scanning in the UK.

The Open Rights Group did an extensive report on the 2007 election and concluded:

The technologies used at the May 2007 election—and the processes by which they were implemented—caused significant problems that raise concerns about the accuracy of the results declared.
Given these findings, ORG remains opposed to the introduction of e-voting and ecounting in the United Kingdom.

And the Government DID express distrust in the optical scan system.

Scottish poll probe: e-counting gets 'hold off until safe' verdict The Register. By Lucy Sherriff Posted in Government October 26, 2007 ..."The report strongly recommends against introducing electronic voting for the 2011 elections, until the electronic counting problems from the 2007 elections are resolved....

Computer counting for STV because it is so laborious to tally, not because it works so well.

System used in 2007 will return for 2012 council polls
Award election contract with caution – MSP
The government’s determination to stick with STV guarantees the return of electronic counting, because a manual count would take up to three days.

But Murdo Fraser MSP, Scottish Conservative deputy leader, said the election contract must be awarded with caution. He said: “The shambles of the Scottish Parliament count in 2007 must never happen again.
The Scottish Parliament elections, in May 2011, will be separate from the council poll, and counted manually.

Edinburgh said...

I never said there had been no problems with optical scanning of ballot papers in UK public elections - clearly there were problems in the 2007 elections in Scotland. I said "The introduction of this technology has not raised any particular concerns among electors."

I have read the Open Rights Group report and am familiar with their conclusions. But it remains a fact that the introduction of this technology has not raised any particular concerns among electors. There has been no public outcry from ordinary electors - indeed, there has been almost no public comment on the matter.

I have also read all of the Gould Report on the 2007 election problems - the report of the official enquiry. The conclusion you quote from a secondary source ("The report strongly recommends against introducing electronic voting for the 2011 elections, until the electronic counting problems from the 2007 elections are resolved ...") is perfectly reasonable. But the 2007 problems have been identified and resolved. So there is no reason why electronic counting should not be used in future.

As to Murdo Fraser's comments, you should be aware that this Conservative Party MSP is deputy leader of a party whose official policy is against all forms of PR voting for all public elections. And of course, like all opposition politicians trying to beat the government of the day with any stick that comes to hand, he conveniently, but wrongly, conflates the problems of the Scottish Parliament elections (AMS = MMP)in 2007 with the proposal to use scanning and electronic counting again for the local government elections in 2012 (STV-PR).

Voter said...

Computer counting is NOT transparent. Scotland gave up the most accurate and most transparent voting method there was when they adopted STV. STV is so ridiculously complex that even though the govt does not trust the computers for Parliament elections, they feel forced to use them to tally STV.

STV violates a core principal of elections - Keep It Simple Stupid.

The Scotland 2007 election disaster is like Enron, or like the stock market collapse, or the big banks collapse - few in the public were aware of the problem until it was too late.

"No so much an election as a National humiliation":

In May 2007, UK voters faced the equivalent of a butterfly ballot.
Ballots were uncountable because voters were confused by having a STV ballot and a regular ballot. Then the problems were magnified by the computerized vote counting system. Some voters didn't understand the STV system at all.

There's a photo of Scotland's 2007 ballot at this link
From that link: "Voters were required to rank candidates by number; but many put crosses in the boxes instead, invalidating their paper"

Don't take my word for it, instead listen to what UK voters said, it was their election and STV added chaos:

Sheena Gilmour, from Dunfermline, said: "The voting procedure has led to so much confusion and upset. The money spent on this fiasco is disgusting and I am now gutted that my vote will not be heard."

Peter Hayes, from Ayr, said: "When the number of spoilt papers exceeds candidates' majorities something is seriously wrong with the way the system has been devised."

Craig Ferrier, Dundee: "The whole process was a shambles. The system
is now totally discredited and the company providing the technology
should be sued to reclaim the taxpayers' money."

David Davies, Shetland: "Too many changes were put into place at one
time. Running the council election at the same time as the Holyrood
ones, with different rules, was asking for trouble."

Jennie, Inverness: "I have a degree in politics, yet it took me half an hour studying the leaflets to understand the STV system for local council elections. I have never seen anything more cumbersome in my life."

There's nothing defensible about this mess.