SNP - Tom Wills

News Feed / E-counting: the facts

THE SCOTTISH government is spending more than £5 million on an electronic counting system for votes at next week’s local government elections.

On Thursday they issued the press with a fact sheet about the process and we pass it on for those who might be interested.

Why are we using e-counting?

  • The Scottish Parliament voted in 2004 for the introduction of the Single Transferable Vote system (STV) for local government elections and the system has been in use since 2007.
  • The form of STV used in Scotland means that E-counting is inevitable because a manual count of a full election would take 2-3 days to conduct. This would lead to greater staff and count venue costs in addition to the timing issue. Counting the election electronically allows the result to be produced in a few hours.
  • E-counting also offers greater transparency and information at the count, as well as providing more meaningful post-election data for political parties and the general public which increases the transparency of the entire election process What has changed since 2007?
  • The E-counting project has taken on board the recommendations made by the Gould Report into the combined elections in 2007, including the suggestion that no ballot paper should be automatically rejected by the e-counting system.
  • In planning for the 2012 elections, more large scale testing has been built in to the process, with greater numbers of ballot papers being scanned during each trial phase to test the robustness of the system. The count progress information has also been improved to enhance the transparency of the count.
  • Returning Officers and their staff have been fully involved in the development of the system at all stages including participating in bulk tests of the system in August 2011. In the past two months over 1400 local authority election staff have been trained in the effective use of the electronic counting system.

How do we know the system is accurate?

  • The contract required extensive testing of the system and software and this was undertaken between January 2011 and September 2011, with extensive involvement from Scottish Government and representatives from Scottish Local Authorities, including both technical specialists and election experts. The tests were all passed and the software was accepted for use in the 2012 Elections. All test ballots were marked with preference votes so that results would be known in advance of the electronic count. All of these tests showed that the software performed as expected and generated the correct election results repeatedly.
  • In addition, the software has been successfully deployed at a number of local government by-elections.
  • The software has also been examined and certified by an independent organisation (LaQuSo) to confirm that the STV algorithm used for these Elections is being applied correctly.
  • The system operates on a closed network – therefore is not susceptible to hacking. Access to the system is granted through smart cards, with specific privileges assigned depending on role and responsibility. How does e-counting work?
  • The system involves the following processes: 1. Reception – Ballot boxes are received at the count centre from polling stations. 2. Registration – The number of ballot papers in each ballot box is entered into the system. 3. Scanning – The ballot papers are scanned by the system. 4. Verification – The number of ballot papers that have been scanned is verified against the number of ballot papers that have been registered. 5. Adjudication – Ballot papers with unclear voter intent are reviewed and interpreted by the Returning Officer or his staff. 6. Count – The STV calculation formula is run and the result is produced.

How much will e-counting cost compared to 2007?

  • The 2012 e-counting contract is worth approximately £5.2 million.
  • The cost of e-counting facilities for the 2007 combined Scottish Parliament and Scottish local government elections was approximately £8.5m. These costs were shared between the, then, Scottish Executive and the Scotland Office.

When can we expect results?

  • The first count declarations are anticipated to be announced from around lunchtime. However, it will be for each individual Returning Officer to plan and manage his/her own count and when count declarations are made.
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