London mayor vote uses 'fiasco' e-system

With missing votes and massively delayed results, the electronic count during the Breckland elections this year was hardly an unbridled success. But just months after the election fiasco - which saw the council abandon the unreliable “e-count” in favour of a traditional manual one - it has been announced that the same system will be used in the London mayoral and assembly elections next year.

With missing votes and massively delayed results, the electronic count during the Breckland elections this year was hardly an unbridled success.

But just months after the election fiasco - which saw the council abandon the unreliable “e-count” in favour of a traditional manual one - it has been announced that the same system will be used in the London mayoral and assembly elections next year.

Last night leader of Breckland Council William Nunn expressed misgivings saying he would “not touch” the system developed by Spanish company Indra unless it received a total overhaul.

Mr Nunn said that the system had had “serious flaws” despite extensive preparation and training working alongside Indra.

Indra has placed the blame for the election collapse on “operator error” but said it has redesigned its systems to ensure that mistakes would not happen again.

In London election officials insist that they have chosen Indra to run the count because they were the best and not just because their bid was £1.2m cheaper than their nearest rival.

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Mr Nunn said: “Even with all that knowledge and training the system let us down quite badly and bear in mind that London is somewhat bigger than us,” he said.

“I would not use it again unless I received some serious reassurance that the system had been improved.

“I can only believe they must have done some significant investigative work since the election in Breckland and reassured themselves that the system has resolved the issues relating to tearing of the ballot papers.”

In a damning report the Electoral Commission said that the breakdown of the count at Breckland had damaged public confidence in the electoral process.

The report said that perforations or counterfoils were not properly removed from ballot papers leading to paper jams and alignment problems with the machines and to the electronic scanners rejecting many ballot papers because of their poor quality.

Critics of the Breckland count say that organisers of the London elections need to make sure they learnt from mistakes made in Breckland, where the Electoral Commission found there had been insufficient planning and testing.

Labour agent for Mid Norfolk John Cowan said: “The key problem at Breckland was that it had not been properly planned for.

“The system itself seems to be fairly robust but the system is only as good as its operator.

“They have got to make sure that people are familiar with the system and that there is training for the people on the ground.”

Indra also placed the blame for the chaos on “operator error” but said it had improved the system so it could not happen again.

Indra's Cristina Frutos told a London newspaper: “We have modified the system so that cannot happen again.”

The company also said that it would allow independent auditors to examine software on the counting machines to ensure it is tallying votes correctly and can not be tampered with.

Twelve pilot schemes were held across 13 local authority areas across England during the May elections trying out different methods such as advance voting signing for ballot papers, electronic voting and electronic counting.

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