Monday, October 01, 2007

Doube Double Toil and Trouble - an election chaos nightmare 

I have been trying to make sense of the voter registration situation, and other worries, and come up with some troubling conclusions. If I have got it wrong, I think I am not alone in these conclusions so some public information needs to come out sharpish.

Voter registration. Forget the rolling registration. A LOT of people will be disenfranchised if we hold an election now. As I understand it, you needed to be on the register by September 1st to qualify for an election up to November 30th. So, for example, all those students going up to campus for the first time will therefore not be able to register at college for an autumn election… Cambridge, two Oxford seats, Chelmsford, lots of interesting seats affected. Any registrations now would be set aside to be processed after polling day and added to the register as from January 1st 2008

Is this so? Is the figure anything like the ‘million disenfranchised nationally’ that has started to pop up in backstairs conversations?

Those who were on the register anywhere before September 1st will be OK, but there could be confusion in store for many people who have filled in the registration forms for the annual registration check, and who are at a different address to their previous registration. Again as I understand it, forms received after 1 September are not counted as a ‘rolling registration’ so those people will not be on the register at the new address they expect to vote from, though they may still be able to vote as from their old address as that registration may still be valid. They would need to check the registers go to their old polling station or ask for a ballot paper from their old address to go to their new one. More work for Election Officer staff. Again is this so? Clear advice is urgently needed.

Postal Vote verification. New legislation requires the signatures on returned ballot envelopes to be checked. Or at least it does in England and in Wales (And in Northern Ireland?). In Scotland however legislation is required under devolved powers. I hear that this hasn’t happened so any Autumn election in Scotland will be under the old rules for postal votes. Is this so?

There are new machines coming into use that will read signatures on ballot envelopes automatically and compare to that given on the postal vote application form. Only a very few Returning Officers have even got hold of these machines yet. Even if rushed into service, there is no time for proper training and debugging of the system under realistic operational conditions. The old IT lecturer in me is drooling about an emerging case study in bad technology deployment, the practical politician and responsible citizen cringes at the possible chaos to come.

Northern Ireland. The election for the Westminster seats will of course be under the national FPTP system. This maximises the chances for disruptive campaigns aimed at destroying the current power sharing agreement undertaken by parties competing in Proportional Elections.. How robust is the governing agreement?

What a pity the system was not changed at least for the Westminster seats from Northern Ireland..

Postal Service
Two postal strikes are planned for the middle of the possible election period which could seriously muck up postal voting and also the FREEPOST deliveries of election material.

All in all there are excellent technical reasons for NOT having a General Election for the next couple of months.

Pity that the main opposition parties have herded themselves into an ‘election now!’ stampede and cannot offer calm advice in the national interest.

(And yes I do think we LibDems have made a serious mistake on this one, giving Gordon a free hand to exploit whatever advantages he can grab).

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Most of what you say is true except:
"As I understand it, you needed to be on the register by September 1st to qualify for an election up to November 30th"

Special rules come in beyond the normal rolling registration rules.
Yes, but only after an election is called and up to twelve? days before polling day - a window in the minimum campaign period of just nine days. Though if they think disenfrachising students is going to let them keep hold of Andrew SMith's seat they've got another think coming!
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