back to article Voter registration site collapse proves genius of GDS, says minister

The high profile collapse of the UK Government Digital Service’s voter registration site last week only shows how brilliant the Government Digital Service is, says the minister responsible* for it. Matthew Hancock MP, minister for the Cabinet Office, ran through all the latest TED talk buzzwords (he's an Oxford PPE graduate) …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    within two hours we knew exactly what was wrong

    he's right, you know, a remarkable achievement, given that when gov system goes tits up it usually not only does that, but then, nobody has a f... clue what was wrong, for hours, days, and years to come, never mind fixing it. But lookie here, a triumph! - they KNEW, and within TWO HOURS. Perhaps they can do better next time, like getting the "knew" part down to less than ONE HOUR! That would be a splendid achievement indeed!

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: within two hours we knew exactly what was wrong

      If they could get the knowing part down into negative values, say by using predictive demand analysis, and then scaling up the resources automatically by, say, spawning temporary VMs, they might avoid things going TITSUP in the first place making "data-driven policymaking" (*shudder*) for routine matters unnecessary.

      1. Ken 16

        Re: within two hours we knew exactly what was wrong

        That's a great idea, why don't you design a system that can do that and sell use of it to others online?

        You'll need a three letter acronym and a catchy buzzword to market it though.

        1. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: within two hours we knew exactly what was wrong

          "You'll need a three letter acronym and a catchy buzzword to market it though."

          And it wouldn't hurt if you've been to the same schools as the MPs you're pitching to...

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Confusing waste of money

    All this site does is cause confusion. It obfuscates the fact that electoral registration is a local government responsibility by expensively providing a central government shim, which won't help the prospective voter understand how the system works in the future, and it bypasses any front end the local ERO might already have and gives them more work to do. At most all that was needed was a curated set of links to the local ERO sites - hell, throw in a postcode lookup if you really want to look like you're adding value. Completely pointless, and now it's caused chaos with the need for emergency legislation, and possible legal challenge to that. Idiots.

    1. aelking

      Re: Confusing waste of money

      Just so you know there weren't any online systems for IVR before this from end, because the whole process changed from a house based system.

      And yes, while it may only ask a few questions on the front end for normal people, for special voters e.g. overseas and armed forces there are alot more questions.

      And verification is then done via the DWP, which it does automatically using this system, and only if there is an issue with the application will the ERO contact you to get more information.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pure Genius

    Getting a Government Minister to praise you for the way in which you fucked up takes some serious talent.

    1. TitterYeNot

      Re: Pure Genius

      "Getting a Government Minister to praise you for the way in which you fucked up takes some serious talent."

      It's almost Kafkaesque isn't it?

      What we need is a real-life Malcolm Tucker (see In The Loop / The Thick of It), then we could just lock these fuckwits in a room with him for a couple of hours and see how much they dribbled afterwards...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pure Genius

      "Getting a Government Minister to praise you for the way in which you fucked up takes some serious talent."

      How did I fuck up? Let me count the ways: 1, 2, 3...

  4. Raumkraut

    We'll get back to you

    In fact, many of the voters who were panicked into entering their details last week had already been registered.

    I'm not surprised by this. I registered about a month ago via the gov site. The resultant emails said I would be contacted by my local authority once I had been registered, or if they needed more information.

    Never heard a peep from anyone.

    But at least my council were responsive when I later (aka close to the deadline) emailed them asking about my status.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: We'll get back to you

      It's an application to register to vote, it's not registering to vote. It also offers no feedback.

      In other words, it's a bit naff.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: We'll get back to you

        From the descriptions and comments, it sounds like it's just something to pacify the proles. If they think they've registered than all is well and none will be upset. If failure can be seen as success, this fits right in.

  5. sysconfig

    You couldn't make this sh** up

    They knew within two hours after the fact what went wrong. Hear, hear! Everybody who does not need a beating with a cluebat first, would have known *before* the fact how many visitors can be expected and what capacity might be needed (plus buffer and/or ability to scale).

    And here's another piece of common sense: Things *always* get busier as a deadline comes closer. Some basic analytics and monitoring would have shown an alarming trend (for the un-initiated) and they could have spent those two hours to sort things out before seeing the service fail.

    It was a spectacularly epic fail, not a success by any means. Politicians!

    1. fajensen Silver badge

      Re: You couldn't make this sh** up

      The missing included “Areas with either higher proportions of students (aged 16-74) [sic], higher proportions of people living in private rented accommodation and/or higher proportions of people living in communal establishments had relatively lower match rates.”

      Sounds like Success to me!

    2. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: You couldn't make this sh** up

      "Everybody who does not need a beating with a cluebat first, would have known *before* the fact how many visitors can be expected and what capacity might be needed"

      Really? 20-20 hindsight. Go on then, how could it have been predicted? Could they have predicted both Google and Facebook actively prompting the service and the resulting slashdot effect? They could have sized for the whole population registering at once but then you'd be bleating about the waste of money.

      1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

        Re: You couldn't make this sh** up

        > Go on then, how could it have been predicted?

        Well firstly, as has already been mentioned, things are known to get busy leading up to a deadline. It's not like this has never been observed before :

        And the one I can't find offhand about HMRC allowing extra time for self assessments after their site failed to handle deadline demand.

        Some numbers are (or should be if the systems analyst wasn't a complete numpty).

        Total number of people in the UK eligible to vote. Exact numbers probably aren't, but I bet there are people with a darned good idea.

        Total number of people actually registered. If this isn't known then we might as well pack up and go home.

        Subtract one from 'tother and you get a fairly good estimate of how many aren't registered.

        As above, you should be able to watch trends, and apply knowledge from previous events, to get an idea of how application rate is likely to scale up as the deadline looms.

        I think the only unknown is the number of applications it'll be expected to handle from people already registered - but then, why isn't it also handling that part of de-duplication ?

        This is precisely the sort of thing "cloud" is supposed to handle - with the ability to scale up a (properly designed) system very quickly - and shut it down again when the peak is over. That suggests that either the people responsible are clueless f***wits, or the people responsible for them and their budget* are clueless f***wits.

        * As has been pointed out before, it's possible that external constraints precluded a scalable system in favour of fixed costs. Whoever was responsible for that should be hung out in public.

        In short, no - such peaks are neither unprecedented, nor are they unpredictable. A competent design would have coped with it.

        1. David Pollard

          Re: You couldn't make this sh** up

          This is precisely the sort of thing "cloud" is supposed to handle...

          What they seem to have used is clod computing - cloud with U left out..

  6. Tom 7 Silver badge

    What do they run this stuff on?

    Just asking as I have just managed to DOS a simple python/flask website by soak testing it and doing more than 50 transactions a minute it went awol. It was a simple form filling and dumping the data in a sqlite database and the soaking was done from the local network. And the monitor program mailed me it was down before the soak testing was happy it had killed it.

    OK not quite up to registering a country before an referendum but it was on a RaspberryPi Zero ffs.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What do they run this stuff on?

      "RaspberryPi Zero ffs."

      My favorite model...

  7. WibbleMe

    The thing about load balancers is that they do not cost anything until you need them. In a previous post there was a quote of 500K users, that's not that manny visitors to put into context this post will probably get 200K views in the first hour

  8. Tony S

    Pure Doublethink; where a failure becomes a success.

    I think that we may have to change the old adage.

    To err, is human. To really mess things up requires a computer and a government.

    1. Notas Badoff

      To err, is human. To really mess things up requires a quantum computer and a government.


      They can then claim that the correct answers were already in the computer, it's just that the wrong answers were publicized at first.

      As for how the government will best employ the quantum superpositions and entanglement, well that shows they've been ahead of the technology all along, doesn't it?

  9. mfwiniberg

    I've been waging a bit of a one man campaign against the self-congratulatory GDS team for some time. If site testing was done with real users eg from the target audience for the sites and without IT skills, or with reading or sight difficulties etc, then the contrast between the GDS world pictured via their self-promoting tweets and blogs and the reality of the dysfunctional pages often encountered on GOV.UK wouldn't be so great.

    A better example of an organisation that has evolved to grow itself rather than serve its original purpose would be hard to find.

  10. andy gibson

    Iplayer at work

    What's the betting BBC's iPlayer will do the same this afternoon?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Iplayer at work

      why on earth would it do that, I wonder! Let me ask my 9-year old daughter :(

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Iplayer at work

      apart from the fact that will be spewing out terabytes of data (OK the CDN's will be), not a few hundred meg.

  11. The Boojum


    Your treatment of the words 'responsible for' is easily clarified.

    "... responsible when things go well for ...".


  12. Pen-y-gors Silver badge


    "We’ve spoken for many years about evidence-based policymaking,"

    or to put it another way...We look at the evidence and either completely ignore it or do the opposite of what it suggests, 'cos our knee-jerk gut reactions are so much more reliable as a way of developing coherent, integrated policies.

    N.B. the above quote applies to politicians of most of the big parties, in most countries. Sigh....

    1. MonkeyCee

      Re: Evidence?

      The evidence is "will this policy actually motivate people to vote for us?" hence why there are certain issues that are seized on since they are emotive and ensure people will vote for, even if all the other party policies are against them. Abortion and immigration are two of the biggies.

  13. ma1010

    It's called SPIN

    Yes, we were shown to be ignorant wankers who couldn't plan properly BUT

    We figured out the above fact after the system crashed

    The next time we screw up like this, we will probably be able to figure it out even faster THEREFORE

    We're wank-wizards, er, I mean wizards at IT service delivery THEREFORE

    You should all have confidence in your government to do a truly wizard job of delivering IT services to the public.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Triumph of Disruptive technology

    Disruptive technology creates a layer of digital serfdom, profit taking or gouging by using technology to make some process marginally more convenient.

    The voter registration site is just a vertical version of the normal horizontal format providing an alibi for a blatant attempt to rig the profile of the electorate.

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