Mayoral election reverted to spreadsheets

Last month’s election for London mayor had to resort to manual counting, it has been revealed.

Errors caused by the electronic vote-counting system meant that staff spent several hours manually retallying sets of results, unable to stand by the incorrect data.

The discrepancies were detected late on Friday afternoon, following the election. 

The system – provided by IntElect, a collaborative effort from DRS Data Services and ERS Group – had no problems with the actual number of votes in the database.

The issue lay in the system’s counting software incorrectly reporting results. 

The London Mayoral election saw Sadiq Khan win the vote, seeing him hold office for a four-year period. The vote took place on Thursday 5th May, but the result was not announced until the following Saturday, two days later. DRS, one of the firms responsible for the software, revealed details of the problem last week. Chief Executive Steve Gowers reported that staff onsite had to collate discrepancies manually in a spreadsheet when tallying final results. 

Gowers continued: “The manual part of the process meant that we took the output of those queries and put them into a spreadsheet to add them up,” explained Steve Gowers. 

Programmers then started querying the data, deciding to disregard the system’s ability to accurately collate each constituency’s results. 

This incident has provoked public questioning surrounding electronic ballot systems. 

Electoral law expert Prof Bob Watt at Buckingham University has raised concerns on the subject: “The bigger issue of course just how stable these machines are and that’s something that I have a great deal of worry about and have had for some time.” Electronic counting systems will not be employed during this Thursday’s EU referendum. 

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