Scathing report on Brecks election farce

Electronic voting trials which created farcical scenes in Norfolk and other areas of Britain during last month's local elections are today criticised in a scathing report by computer experts.

Electronic voting trials which created farcical scenes in Norfolk and other areas of Britain during last month's local elections are today criticised in a scathing report by computer experts.

Breckland was one of the councils which agreed to use new technology but the count was dogged by a series of problems which meant the final votes were counted by hand more than 100 hours after polling stations shut.

Equipment could not cope with perforated paper being left on papers and extra staff had to be brought into complete the operation manually.

As the Open Rights Group issued its report about “serious concerns” over electronic voting technology, Breckland Council admitted “difficulties would have to be ironed out” before it would use e-counting again.

The ORG was invited to observe last month's elections where new methods were used including voting by telephone or computer and electronic counting of ballot papers.

It said it could not express confidence in the election results recorded in areas where it watched the counting of votes.

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The report found the only ward in England where votes were counted both manually and electronically - Dereham Humbletoft ward in Breckland - the number of ballots recorded was 56pc higher when counted by hand rather than by machine.

The new report records “chaotic scenes,” with counts slowed by malfunctioning scanners and software errors, as well as fold marks, perforations and tears making ballot papers unreadable to scanners.

The ORG raised concerns that e-voting elections are “open to error and fraud” because they use “black box systems” where the mechanisms for recording and tabulating the vote are hidden away, making public scrutiny impossible.

The lack of reliable “audit trails” allowing counts to be checked meant that there was “no meaningful way to verify that voters' intentions had been accurately counted.”

The report warned that insufficient time was given to English councils to prepare for e-voting pilots, resulting in a “completely inadequate' timescale for development and implementation of robust systems.

Returning officers were poorly equipped to understand the technical aspects of the count, leaving them unable to manage events as they unfolded.

The report says: “ORG concludes that, given the problems observed and the questions remaining

unanswered, it cannot express confidence in the results declared in areas observed. Given these findings, ORG remains opposed to the introduction of e-voting and e-counting in the United Kingdom.”

Breckland Council spokesman Mary Palmer said: “Although we were pleased to take part in the electronic trial, what we found was that there were a number of difficulties which would have to be ironed out before we would use it in another election.

“We carried out manual and electronic counts in Humbletoft and it had no affect on the overall result.”