Doubt over election result after ICT failure

A combination of ICT problems may have led to the wrong candidate being elected during district council elections in May, it emerged this week.

Liberal Democrat Lee Dillon was elected to West Berkshire Council after polling 2,160 votes, but this week the council admitted that more votes were declared than actually cast.

The council said that the failure of an ICT system meant that votes had to be counted manually staff, and that a combination of poor numeracy skills, exhaustion and poor training had led to the error.

According to local newspaper Newbury Today, the chief executive of West Berkshire Council and returning officer, Nick Carter, told councillors at a meeting this week: “It was human error. Clearly the result that I declared was not right.

“The supervisor on the table did not count the votes right. If the ICT had been operational it would’ve been picked up but the human view was that it was OK.”

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A report considered by the councillors found that when the elections team opened postal ballots, numbering “was not in accordance with what was previously agreed”.

Attempts were made to alter the numbers in the election management system but this was not possible, the report found.

“This was a result of human error,” the report said. “Had the count module attached to the Xpress software system been operational this would have been used to input the results and check figures.

“However, due to the problems identified earlier with the ballot paper numbers it was not possible to use this system.”

The Elections Team also identified an issue with the software system, where in a small number of instances, new electors had applied online, but had mistakenly been merged with another elector in the same property

The report also said that problems were also caused by unclear information to overseas postal voters on the government’s Individual Electoral Registration system, one of the Government Digital Service’s exemplar transformation projects.

The report said that the council had received more than 350 applications from overseas electors, which had to be inspected to ensure the applicants had been previously registered in West Berkshire in the preceding 15 years.

“The issue faced by the Elections team was that the majority of these applications were made via the Government Digital Service and electors wrongly assumed that once their application for registration had been approved they would be granted a postal vote,” the report said. “However, this was not the case and a separate application had to be made to the council.”

The report said that the Cabinet Office has now acknowledged that its information was not as clear as it should have been and has now altered the wording on its website.

Colin Marrs

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