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Computers offer lifeline to traditional count drama...
Computers offer lifeline to traditional count drama

An LGC exclusive by Nick Golding

Returning officers are poised to invest in new technology to enable the drama of traditional election night counts to be saved.

New anti-fraud legislation requiring the checking of postal votes has led to warnings that electoral administration staff will no longer complete counts in one night, forcing the postponement of results.

The Electoral Administration Act which comes into force before next May's council elections means officers must ensure the signatures and dates of birth of postal voters are verified in order to prevent fraud.

Many election officers have warned the time required to check the tens of thousands of postal votes received in many areas would make traditional overnight counts impossible.

Democracy minister Bridget Prentice recently said there were 'good arguments' to move counting to Fridays. But returning officers are awaiting secondary legislation which will detail exactly what proportion of postal votes need to be checked, before concluding how to undertake elections.

The Association of Electoral Administrators' executive director Bill Crawford said: 'I'm not sure that the [time of the count] will change - I think we'll be left with a choice of when to do it.

'[Verifying postal votes] is going to be a huge job. We can do it with an element of technology if we scan and hold signatures.'

Computer suppliers are already working out how to adapt existing technology to solve the problem.

William Quinton, managing director of Oxford-based Halarose, said while smaller councils might choose to verify postal votes by hand, software could be developed to check signatures in a fully automated system.

However, the company undertook a straw poll of 19 councils in which 13 said they would consider a semi-

automated system in which officers check signatures against those on applications which appear on screen when a security barcode is scanned. Each postal vote would only take 15 seconds to check.

Mr Quinton said: 'There's still too much unknown, in terms of the secondary legislation, for us to provide a solution to meet everyone's needs at the moment.

'It's very difficult to say when such a system could be brought in. It would be pretty challenging to get it in for next May.'

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