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Aberdeen City Case Study

Community Council Election

25th April, 2013

Use of ElectorCountLite in Community Council multi-channel voting STV election


Democracy Counts - Aberdeen City Case Study


Introduction

Democracy Counts Ltd was engaged by Aberdeen City Council to conduct a community council election in the Craigiebuckler and Seafield area of Aberdeen using ElectorCountLite as the mechanism for setting up and delivering a multi-channel STV election.

ElectorCountLite was chosen as the preferred medium for conducting the ballot and count based on previous experience in its use in the referendum on the development of Union Terrace Gardens in 2012, and in the ballot on representation on the North Sea Oil Commission in 2013.

It was determined by the client that the election would be conducted primarily as an online election based on the overwhelmingly positive voter feedback on this channel in the previous ballots instanced above and in the interests of cost and efficiency but with the added options of postal and in-person voting on demand.

The ballot was conducted on rules based upon standard election rules and practices to ensure maximum probity.

Prior to commencing the election process, the ElectorCountLite system was tested and validated using raw STV election data from earlier STV elections and comparing the results delivered by ElectorCount against previous results. ElectorCountLite was able to instantly able to output a fully auditable set of STV results and the results matched perfectly at all stages.

Further tests using STV election data were conducted where the ElectorCountLite results were compared with manual calculations. 100% accuracy was again achieved by ElectorCount.

A letter with voting instructions including the web address and unique log-in details was issued to every elector using the system and due to the volume of the mailing Democracy Counts was asked to print and dispatch the mailing.

A modified version of this letter containing the same information for online voting and unique log-in details was sent to existing postal voters but offering postal voting as an alternative on demand in order to maintain voter choice and maximise turnout while encouraging online voting as the preferred channel .

All letters offered the further choice of voting in person at a polling station in Aberdeen City Council’s offices. Voters choosing this option would be given access to a computer in the polling station to enable them to cast their vote with additional assistance form polling staff as necessary.

Eligibility to vote was defined as eligibility to vote in local authority elections.

Project Management

The project was managed throughout using project management methodology, with a dedicated Project Manager assigned to oversee the process.

The online voting screens were designed by Democracy Counts Ltd. and the election was set up by the client

Regular communication took place by meeting, telephone and email and records were kept.

Poll Cards/Voting Letter

A letter was sent to each eligible elector taking the place of the traditional poll card, giving each elector notice of the poll, instructions on how to vote online, the web address URL and unique log-in security codes

The letter sent to existing postal voters also gave details of how to request a postal vote as an alternative.

All letters offered the option of voting in person at a polling station within Aberdeen City Council’s headquarters .

Internet Voting

The arrangements for voting by internet were by means of a secure website which included an introductory statement by Aberdeen City Council and required the voter to enter the two unique security numbers issued with the poll card/voting letter.

Voters were then guided by a series of on-screen prompts to a screen showing the ballot paper with details of the number to be elected and the candidates’ names listed alphabetically.

Voters were invited to list their choice of candidates in order of preference by marking a 1 in the box opposite their first choice, a 2 opposite their second choice, a 3 opposite their third choice, and so on, and were reminded that they might vote for as many or as few candidates as they wished.

Having done so, the system required the voter to check, amend if necessary, and confirm their choice(s) before accepting the vote.

An additional, optional screen inviting voter feedback was also displayed. The results of this voluntary feedback are set out later in this report as an Appendix.

Postal Voting

For those existing postal voters who, after receipt of the poll card/voting letter above, wished to receive a postal vote, a postal voting pack comprising: an introductory letter from the Client; instructions on how to vote by post; a ballot paper; a ballot paper envelope; a declaration to be signed by the voter and returned along with the ballot paper; a pictorial guide on how to complete the pack if voting by post, and a postage paid return envelope was issued.

System Accuracy and Integrity

Prior to commencing the election process, the ElectorCountLite system was tested and validated using raw STV election data from earlier STV elections and comparing the results delivered by ElectorCount against previous results. The results matched perfectly at all stages.

Further tests using STV election data were conducted where the ElectorCountLite results were compared with manual calculations. 100% accuracy was again achieved by ElectorCount.

The website carried an SSL Certificate which encrypted the data between the Voter and DCL’s servers. The system has been rigorously tested by independent information security specialists who conducted an application penetration test, an information security test audit of the system.

A key feature of the system was the de-duplication of attempts to vote more than once or by more than one channel. Once a vote had been recorded by internet against a voter’s details on the register, any subsequent attempt to vote again using the unique security numbers would be debarred from access.

Printing, Fulfilment and Issue

Printing and fulfilment of the poll cards/voting letters and postal voting packs was undertaken by Democracy Counts Ltd at our headquarters in Manchester. The company is an experienced postal vote provider currently contracted to several Scottish Councils for the production of postal voting stationery.

Replacement packs were issued where voters claimed to have spoiled or did not receive a voting pack. These requests were random and geographically disparate and well within the parameters of what one might expect in a poll of this size.

Insight

ElectorCountLite offered real time information on who had participated which allowed the authority to analyse and understand the trends that existing in their data.

The Count

The count of votes was undertaken at the close of poll on Thursday, 25th April, 2013.

The count began with an outline of the procedure to be followed for the benefit of those candidates and agents present.

The Returning Officer authorised the commencement of the count proper and ElectorCountLite proceeded to undertake the STV calculation. Having calculated the quota, the system then showed the first preferences, elections and eliminations, transfers and transfer values of each stage.

The Returning Officer then consulted with candidates and agents before declaring the result

Full details of the count and allocations, transfers and transfer values were to the Returning Officer for retention.

Post Count

All personal data held by Democracy Counts Ltd.in relation to the election was deleted by 1st June, 2013.

Conclusions

The election was conducted fairly and transparently; was readily accessible to all participants; and was open to scrutiny at all stages.

Confidence in the ElectorCountLite system was established through rigorous pre-election testing.

The processes were delivered in a professional and equitable manner and the result as declared was accurate and robust.

Those who voted by internet had the opportunity to include comments on the voting process and these were overwhelmingly positive.

The format of the election, and in particular, the ease of set-up and use of online voting securing higher than anticipated turnout, confirms our belief that this model provides outstanding value for money.

This model could easily be adapted for local referenda, BID polls, youth parliament elections, Health Board elections as well as community council elections, where cost and turnout are major factors.

As Aberdeen’s Depute Returning Officer David Gow said:

"I used ElectorCountLite to return the recent Community Council election. I am amazed by how quick and easy to set up a secure, online election. I customised the voting screens, decided what information should be displayed at each stage and used the system to communicate to the electors.  It is very useful to have a choice of communication channels like email and SMS to encourage participation.  I could then use the software to check the progress of the vote.  The whole process is quick and secure and the end result extremely professional.  Finally I was able to return a full STV election result in second!  It has inspired confidence in the election and increased participation.  It saved time and money and I will be using it again in the future."


For more information, contact Democracy Counts on 01925 320888 or via email at sales@democracycounts.co.uk