Some changes in electoral regulation…

Some interesting developments at the Electoral Commission’s post election seminar. Sammy Morse’s constituency profiles got deserved praise from the panel of party elections directors/specialists – even if, as the panel’s chair pointedly remarks, Sammy’s predictions were just as unreliable as most people’s. His work on the detail however was peerless, on or offline!The new man at the Electoral Office, Douglas Bain, had some interesting suggestions for change in future elections. Executive power to make such decisions rests with Lord Faulkener’s Department for Constitutional Affairs (soon to be the new Department of Justice on 9th May, and the Northern Ireland Office.

With identity cards now, by common agreement amongst the parties, taking care of the once vexed issue of personation, he believes it is no longer necessary for parties to post Polling Agents at the polling stations. Cadogan Enwright of the Greens alone demurred, saying that anything that might lessen participation (and scrutiny) in the democratic should be undertaken cautiously. Sean Begley from Sinn Fein suggested that his party would be happy to release people to engage in the most important effort: ie, getting people to the polling station in the first place.

Bain is clearly a fan of electronic counting (though not the highly contentious issue of electronic voting): “with a fair wind we could perhaps have something place by late 2008”. It was noted from the floor (I think) that although two days may be a long time to wait for results, manual counting does at least afford candidates some idea of their fate before taking the platform to be counted either out or in.

The Commission itself is to heighten the level of scrutiny of election spending in Northern Ireland. Under petition, it has agreed not to bring us in line with Britain by demanding that all donations are made public after some strong lobbying from political parties, citing issues of personal safety. But they are keen to move as quickly as possible to that more normalised position.

Interestingly they have put a lot of effort in the run up to the election monitoring the activities of the various parties during the campaign, and are confident that they have reasonable idea of the levels of expenditure they should be submitting within the next month or so. So we may not, in future, see a situation which one wag on the panel described as seeing “the UUP declare £2 million of expenditure, and Sinn Fein £3.50”.

  • Pete Baker

    “With identity cards now, by common agreement amongst the parties, taking care of the once vexed issue of personation, he believes it is no longer necessary for parties to post Polling Agents, at each count. Cadogan Enwright of the Greens alone demurred, saying that anything that might lessen participation (and scrutiny) in the democratic should be undertaken cautiously. Indeed Sean Begley from Sinn Fein suggested that his party would be happy to release people to engage in the most important effort: ue getting people to the polling station.”

    Hmm.. by all means take the logical step from those suggestions and make voting compulsary – indeed the Secretary of State for Wales, etc, favours just that.

    But party political activists should not be charged, nor encouraged to by the Electoral Commission, with getting people to the polling station.

    If you want to go down that route then it would be better to create a fine for non-participation in the electoral process – with the option of spoiling your vote left available. If you want to go down that route.

    And Mark Devenport noted some other suggestions

    As for..

    “The Commission itself is to heighten the level of scrutiny of election spending in Northern Ireland.”

    What scrutiny?!

  • SuperSoupy

    Ah, Pete B with the SDLP argument of – if they can get their vote out – it should be stopped.

    Tough luck buster.

  • Pete Baker

    I’ll assume you missed the subtlety of my argument, SS, but it doesn’t help your cause to misrepresent that argument.

    As I said,

    “If you want to go down that route then it would be better to create a fine for non-participation in the electoral process – with the option of spoiling your vote left available. If you want to go down that route.”

  • SuperSoupy

    Pete,

    No subtlety to miss:

    “But party political activists should not be charged, nor encouraged to by the Electoral Commission, with getting people to the polling station.”

    How dare they motivate people to vote.

    You do realise this argument is being laughed at by even APNI? Pointing at and laughing blogs from people like Nic Whyte?

    How dare they ask people to come out and vote!

    *hehehe*

  • SuperSoupy

    Another shock for you:

    Some assist voters to register, actually encourage it and work hard on it.

    It could even have won them seats.

    Bloody awful isn’t it!

    It should be banned.

    *laughs at the sore loser*

  • Pete Baker

    “How dare they ask people to come out and vote!”

    Subtlety missed, again.

    With a civic obligation to vote, and a possible fine to back up that obligation, any potential party political pressure would be negated.

    If the desire is to encourage greater participation in the electoral process, that is.

  • SuperSoupy

    Returning to the main topic after the attempt at deflection:

    I think Morse’s profiles should have been dismissed or ignored by a body like the Electoral Commission as they focused on sectarian headcounts to judge each constituency.

    Each large settlement was reduced to census info on prod/taig split.

    Not something the EC should be endorsing as political analysis IMHO. Not something they would endorse if it related to colour in British constituencies.

    Are there enough blacks to give Labour a seat? Don’t see the EC declaring that as the best analysis going.

  • Crataegus

    it is no longer necessary for parties to post Polling Agents at the polling stations. Cadogan Enwright of the Greens alone demurred,

    I would be glad to see a fundamental reduction in polling agents, that way we know that information in not being passed out. Fine to have one from each party at each station to check the general conduct but any more is unnecessary.

    There is always someone who has to disagree. But I thought it was Green Party policy to reduce polling agents. I appears that once again I am wrong.

    Strangely I quite like the manual counts, all very inefficient but it presents an opportunity for those for various camps to meet and at a time when any of them may be hunbled. Speed isn’t everything.

  • SuperSoupy

    Crat,

    You have no problem with the EC endorsing the equivalent of a white/black split as the best in political analysis?

    They’ll never win a seat there, the census says there are too many blacks in city A and village B/C?

    It should be discouraged not endorsed.

  • Crataegus

    SuperSoupy

    There are lots of things I don’t like.

    The carve up I find distasteful there has to be a better way of doing it and with other considerations to the fore like natural catchment areas, not splitting communities etc. We are where we are and all progress is from that position.

    What really worries me is the distinct disadvantage that independents and those who have limited financial support are under. Democracy should be about trying to give individuals as near equal a platform as we can. It should be open to all and encourage participation. On that subject of expenditure do you still have to get a JP to endorse your expenditure submissions? WHY WHY WHY?

    I would like to see election expenditure reduced. This may encourage people to ensure they make their mark between elections rather than relying on a deep pocket come the election. In the South we are going to see some silly levels of expenditure so they can litter Mayo etc with posters.

    Not a great fan of postal voting either. Some need postal votes because they are elsewhere, but how many are so busy that they can’t find 10 minutes to go out and vote? If they can’t be bothered that is their choice.

    One final one. If a Party gets say 6000 votes in one constituency it gets someone elected, however that same group could get 20000 votes across NI and get no one elected, is that right?

    Long day.

  • Crow

    As someone who attends the counts, I would not be in favor of electronic counting. It would completly remove the excitment of the ocassion. Who can resist the buzz around the room as each round is announced; the quick calculations and prognostications; the looks on the faces of the nervous and the hopeful; seeing the good, the bad and the ugly all rubbing shoulders in a brief moment of common purpose.

  • SUPER SOUPY

    “I think Morse’s profiles should have been dismissed or ignored by a body like the Electoral Commission as they focused on sectarian headcounts to judge each constituency.”

    I agree entirely with these comments and I am astonished at what relevance Sammy’s profiles have to the outworkings, objectives and remit of The Electoral Commission. Absolutely none whatsoever, I would argue…!!

  • Valenciano

    Changes I’d like to see

    1) No electronic voting/counting. Having a clear paper trail retains confidence in the democratic process and makes malpractice more difficult.

    2) Rotating peoples names on ballot papers. If there are 10 candidates then candidate A should be first on 10% of them, second on 10% etc Currently there’s a small bias towards candidates whose surnames begin with the letter A.

    3) Abolishing the deposit for elections and possibly replacing it with a greater number of signatures.

    4) The delay in updating electoral boundaries is a disgrace. London with four times the number of Westminster constituencies had completed it’s electoral review by 2002. Five years on the NI one is still pissing about resulting in the recent elections being fought on constituency boundaries that had big disparities.

    5) Consideration of weekend voting – Saturdays would be easier for a lot of people than midweek.

  • Bill

    13 2) California did something like this for their elections randomising the order of the candidates.

    Florida wound up getting into a mess because the Democrats wanted Gore next to Bush so that Bush would not get an advantage. The trouble was people expecting Gore to be third in the list wound up voting for Buchanan and we all know what happened next don’t we?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Soupy:

    I think Morse’s profiles should have been dismissed or ignored by a body like the Electoral Commission as they focused on sectarian headcounts to judge each constituency.

    I’m surprised to hear a republican trying to imply that elections in NI amount to something more than a sectarian headcount.

    Article:

    Bain is clearly a fan of electronic counting (though not the highly contentious issue of electronic voting): “with a fair wind we could perhaps have something place by late 2008”.

    No, no, NO. Electronic counting or voting (doesn’t matter which) must be utterly resisted. There is no way to verify whether the computer has committed an error or not. At least in a manual count you have a crew of staff, all of whom are different, and if you have a recount you’ll benefit from a randomness effect. If the machine has an error, it’ll keep making the same mistake again and again no matter how many times you recount or rescan the votes.

    We must all oppose this absurd mentality that the integrity of the vote must be compromised by concerns over two days of counting and/or cost. This is the same bullshit mentality that led to the mess with the new NHS computer system, “spend a pile of cash on computers and it’ll make everything faster”. It’s nonsense that people who do not understand technology and computers are taking decisions like this.

  • kokane

    Sammy Morse

    As suggested to you previously on your own website – can you not at least do the border constituencies in the South in the coming election or franchise out your format to a worthy enthusiast or newspaper.

  • Benjamin

    The EO may well be “confident that they have reasonable idea of the levels of expenditure they should be submitting” for THIS election but there was a striking contrast in the number of SF posters than there have been in the past.

    There were strong rumours of the EO investigating rural and urban constituencies and it was clear, this had an effect on party spending. In future elections, will parties face the same scrutiny over their spending figures?

  • Crataegus

    Valenciano

    Excellent points and totally agree.

    On expenditure there is party expenditure and candidate expenditure. Party expenditure and activity needs more careful scrutiny again in the interests of ensuring better equality for the various candidates.

    Bill

    It is a well known fact that being called Adams is a distinct advantage over being called Williams especially if you have several candidates from the same party. This has to be addressed and randomisation is the only way to go.

    Another problem is independents. If I am an independent with Labour Leanings surely I should have a right to broadly describe myself as Independent (Labour) and so on. Properly done and with judicious use of font sizes we would know where the candidate sees himself and yet avoid the farce of the ‘Literal Democrats’ Independents should have as much right of an identity as political parties.

  • BeardyBoy

    I am all for electronic counting. It would be more accurate, faster and totally verifiable.

    My way to do it is to get the counter to enter the voting slips preference, then the slip is passed onto another counter until it gets 3 matches then it is accepted and gets placed to the side, each counter should be on a different line and each slip barcoded.

    A sample of each count can be held to the side for verification purposes.

    A simple program would then do an instant tally once the votes are all counted and we have a complete breakdown of the votes.

    Quick, cheap, accurate and totally secret and open for scrutiny.

  • Was the fact the Commission completely f*cked up a load of registration forms just a Fermanagh problem?

    For example, four forms are sent off together however only 3 are actually put on the register. When the commission was contacted they gave the petty reason of ‘human error’. Fair enough if it was a one off case, however it has seemed to happen all over Fermanagh.

    Another point, Postal/Proxy votes; who the hell looks at them? All forms were filled in correctly, adequate info such as reason to being unable to vote, place of employment, hours worked etc etc. However a substantial number of the forms were declined. This never happened before. Another example, 20 yr old doing a 6 month working tour of Australia, declined. Why, because of ‘inadequate information’. All dates were specified, form was personally signed, form was witnessed. What else did they want? Plane ticket numbers? Photographs??

  • Comrade Stalin

    Beardyboy:

    I am all for electronic counting. It would be more accurate,

    How do you propose to measure accuracy, and by what metric ?

    faster

    It would be faster and cheaper still not to bother with voting and just get the electoral commission to select the candidates by doing a survey. However, you’ll find that many people will prefer to have an actual poll with the confidence that the people they voted for got elected.

    and totally verifiable.

    Explain how you verify an electronic count in a way which retains the benefits of electronic counting ?

    My way to do it is to get the counter to enter the voting slips preference, then the slip is passed onto another counter until it gets 3 matches then it is accepted and gets placed to the side, each counter should be on a different line and each slip barcoded.

    I have a hard time believing that this will be significantly faster than a manual count. Not only is there the time required for data entry, but you have to do it three times.

    A simple program would then do an instant tally once the votes are all counted and we have a complete breakdown of the votes.

    How do you establish whether or not there are errors in the program that silently introduce inaccuracies in the count ?

    Quick, cheap, accurate and totally secret and open for scrutiny.

    How can anyone without computer expertise possibly scrutinize the operation of this system ?

  • observer

    Everything about elections in Northern Ireland are biased against Independents. It is a disgrace that a candidate is not allowed to be more specific about their political leanings by the use of another word or two after Independent on the ballot paper. The Government don’t like Independents and would much prefer a two party state if they could achieve it. Everything is geared to the parties including broadcast time and media attention. I even noticed in the polling stations that a little printed poster was placed on the wall to help people understand the STV method. The sample ballot paper on the poster did not include one ficticious candidate without a party logo beside their name. Sammy Morse doesn’t like Independents either. They must upset his calculations as he struggles to know what side of the tribal headcount to put them. I suspect that they pinch a lot of Alliance votes as well!

  • BeardyBoy

    I am all for electronic counting. It would be more accurate,
    How do you propose to measure accuracy, and by what metric ?

    Please read the post in full

    faster

    It would be faster and cheaper still not to bother with voting and just get the electoral commission to select the candidates by doing a survey.

    However, you’ll find that many people will prefer to have an actual poll with the confidence that the people they voted for got elected.

    Just a crass pile of poo.

    and totally verifiable.
    Explain how you verify an electronic count in a way which retains the benefits of electronic counting ?

    Again read the post in full.

    My way to do it is to get the counter to enter the voting slips preference, then the slip is passed onto another counter until it gets 3 matches then it is accepted and gets placed to the side, each counter should be on a different line and each slip barcoded.
    I have a hard time believing that this will be significantly faster than a manual count. Not only is there the time required for data entry, but you have to do it three times
    Indeed the initial count may be slower, but remember that it is being verified for accuracy at the same time and all statistics are recorded at one stroke.

    How do you establish whether or not there are errors in the program that silently introduce inaccuracies in the count ?
    easy – make the source code available to all concerned, then allow them to have the data of the count so they can rerun the program with the data at any time to check. If you wanted to you can also send the data via replication for example to anyone after sending them the program so that they can check the data in real time – there are many ways of resolving this to everyones satisfaction that only the extremely obtuse or thick could not agree to it.

    How can anyone without computer expertise possibly scrutinize the operation of this system

    in short Stalin it is completely open and verifiable, quicker as counts for the seats are calculated at a touch of the button, and far more accurate than human counts alone

  • Bill

    “It is a well known fact that being called Adams is a distinct advantage over being called Williams especially if you have several candidates from the same party. This has to be addressed and randomisation is the only way to go.”

    Randomisation, as distinct from Florida’s , was used by California on the surname issue in an election but I have been unable to find how people reacted to it.