Why online voting creates more problems than it solves


Election Polling Station SignAThere’s a new law in politics: whenever there’s been an election with a disappointing turnout (so, pretty much any time there’s an election in the UK) someone will pipe up with ‘we should vote on the internet, that’ll boost turnout’. Someone (occasionally me) will point out that there are lots of problems with the idea of online voting, most notably that creating an online balloting process that’s acceptably secure and secret is the sort of problem that stumps computer scientists.

The response is usually to wish away these problems (which, to be fair, is something even MPs do) and assert that because we can do other things online, we should be able to vote. Now, I could try and explain here why voting is different to banking or shopping, but others have done the job for me, so take a few minutes to watch one or both of these videos:

(The Princeton TED talk is longer and goes into more detail, while the Computerphile one is more entertaining, but they complement each other nicely)

The important point to note is that our current system of voting wasn’t created from scratch but evolved over time through various innovations that have helped to improve security and protect the secrecy of the individual’s ballot. It’s a process that gets regularly stress-tested (usually every May, with other localised tests throughout the year) and has proved that in most cases it can deliver what it needs to (unless you live in Barnet, of course). For online voting to have anything like the same degree of reliability, there are a whole lot of practical issues that need to be resolved. People – like me – who don’t want the sudden adoption of online voting aren’t doing it because we get some nefarious thrill from driving down turnout but because we have genuine concerns that it can deliver the secure and secret election process that everyone desires. I’d love to be able to vote online, but I’d also love to be able to fly and I’m not going to jump off a cliff in the hope I figure out how to do it before I hit the ground.

In the meantime, if you want to boost turnout in elections, there are other ways to do it. You could give councils more powers, so people regard voting for them as more important. You could change voter registration laws to make it easier for people to be automatically registered when they interact with any form of government. You could invest more in running elections to enable more information to be sent out to voters about what posts entail and who the candidates are. You could move polling days to weekends or make election days public holidays, so polling stations are open when people have more time to get to them. You could even adopt an electoral system that makes an individual’s vote more likely to count to motivate them to vote. Sure, none of these match ‘do it on the internet’ as the magic bullet that will solve all problems, but none of them introduce a vast range of new problems either.

Democracy is hard work, and making sure it runs smoothly is a complicated process. There are rarely trouble-free shortcuts to making complicated processes that run important things simple, and online voting is no exception. If you’re convinced it’s wonderful, then you have to address its flaws and people’s concerns, not wave them away because they’re inconvenient truths.

Four more years


It"s on a screen in Charter Hall, it must be official.

It’s on a screen in Charter Hall, it must be official.

As I get older, I’m definitely not as good at recovering from late nights as I used to be, and Thursday was a very late night. By the time I got home from the election count it was almost 7am and I’d only had to walk across Kings Meadow from Leisure World. I don’t envy those who had to drive home after the overnight count in there, nor those who had to be back a few hours later for the Police and Crime Commissioner count. For those of you who weren’t there, you can see the official result by clicking here, but the important part is that I was re-elected with 881 votes, which put me in first place for Castle Ward.

Two days later, though, and my head’s returned enough to normal to start thinking about the next four years, though I have to admit that this wasn’t a scenario I envisaged during the election. Sure, I’d daydreamed about being the one to come top of the poll, but I’d expected that would mean Bill Frame and Jo Hayes would fill the next two spots, not two Tories. I’d like to take this opportunity thank Bill and Jo for all their hard work as councillors for Castle ward over the past few years during which they’ve both accomplished a lot for it, often in the face of some very hostile and personalised opposition. I do have some feelings of guilt at having squeezed them out, but that’s just something that will motivate me to work harder so the work they’ve done won’t go to waste.

My priority is going to be working hard to help the residents of Castle ward, just as it was the last time I represented them as their councillor. I’ve already got meetings filling up my diary, and have been busy reporting problems I spotted during the campaign and in the last couple of days. I am away on holiday soon, but when I’m back from that, I will be back out on the doorsteps again to keep talking to residents and finding out what problems you have and how I and the rest of the Liberal Democrat team can help. I’ve already reactivated and updated my councillor Twitter and Facebook pages, so please follow and like me to keep up with what I’m doing.

Even though I am just one councillor in the ward, there is a team around me, and we’re always looking for more people to join us. We’re always looking for new people to help with campaigning, to come up with ideas for how to improve the local area, the town and the country, or just to donate cashto keep the party running. We’re not a party who get millions of pounds in donations from big business or trade unions – we rely on our members and we’re run by and for our members, right down to every one of us having exactly the same power to make and change party policy.

You don’t have to be a party member to help me out, though. You can help by letting me know what’s going on in your part of the ward or what needs to happen to make things better, and by letting me know if there are any events you’d like me to be at as your councillor. I can’t promise to make it to every one, but I’ll do my best. If you do have some spare time and want to help while getting a bit of exercise, we always need volunteers to help deliver our Focus leaflets around the ward.

One thing the election result has shown me is the utter ridiculousness of our electoral system. In Castle Ward, there were 2442 votes cast for Liberal Democrats and 2414 cast for Tories, yet they got two councillors elected to one of ours. I’m more convinced than ever that England needs to follow the example of Scotland and Northern Ireland and elect councillors using the Single Transferable Vote system. It was interesting to note how many people I spoke to during the campaign expressed a wish to list the various candidates in order of preference, not just have the blunt instrument of crosses in a box. Colchester’s results aren’t even amongst the most ridiculously skewed in the country by the voting system – just look at Manchester, where John Leech is now the sole opposition councillor to 95 Labour councillors or the many tales of rotten boroughs the Electoral Reform Society have collected.

But electoral reform is something for the future, as it’s highly unlikely to be delivered under this Government. For now, the main priority for me is to work hard for the residents of Castle Ward and repay the trust they showed in me by placing me first. If you want to keep up with what I’m doing, then you can follow my councillor account on Twitter, or like my Facebook page where I’ll be doing my best to keep you all updated. I’ll share my councillor email address as soon as I find out what it is!

Once again, I just want to thank everyone who voted for me and everyone who helped to get me elected this week. I’ve now got a lot of work to do to show you your trust in me was well placed.

Back, but in a bittersweet victory


IMAG0652Sometime around 4am on Friday morning, I was declared elected as a councillor for Castle Ward, and not only that I’d got the most votes of all twelve candidates and topped the poll. You can see the full results by clicking here (pdf file). Sadly, my colleagues Bill Frame and Jo Hayes weren’t also elected, with two Conservatives filling second and third places.

I’ll write more over the weekend when I’ve had some more sleep and returned to something that feels more normal, but for now I just wanted to thank everyone in Castle Ward who voted for me and I hope I can reward your trust in me over the next four years.

It’s polling day…


clocktowerAfter all these weeks of campaigning, I can give you news of one confirmed loss from this election campaign – several pounds of weight from me. The election diet plan has had a very positive effect on me over the past few weeks, and there’s definitely less of me than there was in March.

That’s what happens when you spend lots of time either out knocking on doors or delivering leaflets, especially in a ward where it’s much easier to get about on foot or on a bike than it is by car. I’ve knocked on over a thousand doors, spoken to hundreds of people and delivered thousands of leaflets during this campaign, all of which meant that taking a day off from it to walk 14 miles wasn’t too much of a hassle.

Overall, it’s been a great experience to get out on the election trail again. It’s been good to talk to the residents of Castle Ward and find out what they want from their Council and to explain how we as a Liberal Democrat team can help to deliver them. Obviously, not everyone was in agreement with me, but if I am elected tomorrow, I will do as I did before and seek to represent all the residents of the ward as best as I can.

I’m still standing for the aims and values I wrote about at the start of the campaign and the last few weeks have shown me that this is the approach Castle ward and Colchester needs.

I also want to do my part in making Colchester a better place for everyone and carry on some of the work I was doing before. It’s about working on big things like the funding we got for the Castle, or the recent investment in the Mercury renovation but also the small things like improving on street parking in various streets, making waste collection more effective or just helping residents have their views heard on planning and licensing applications.

I’m standing again because I think Colchester needs a Liberal Democrat council to stand up to the cuts being imposed on us from central government, and to ensure that decisions about Colchester are made here in Colchester, not handed over to Essex County Council. We need a council in Colchester that invests in local services, not one that seeks to cut them or sell them off. Colchester is a great town at the heart of a great borough, and a Liberal Democrat-run council can keep improving it, creating more jobs and opportunities for everyone. I want to be part of that again, making sure that Castle Ward and its residents are fully represented and supported.

If you live in Castle Ward, then please vote for me and my colleagues Bill Frame and Jo Hayes today. Indeed, if you’re anywhere in the UK there are elections going on today, so please go out and vote so your voice can be heard. Even if you don’t like any of the candidates, use the opportunity to tell them why.

The votes are being counted overnight tomorrow, so we should know the result sometime around dawn on Friday. Whatever the result, it’s been an interesting time but I am looking forward to catching up on sleep and TV at the weekend.

And then we all have the European referendum campaign to occupy our time for the next seven weeks – who knows how much weight I might lose during that?