back to article Subcontractor's track record under spotlight as London Mayoral e-counting costs spiral

Concerns have been raised over a key supplier of an e-counting system for the London Mayoral elections in 2020. The contract, split between Canadian integrator CGI and Smartmatic, will cost nearly £9m – more than double the cost of £4.1m for the system at the last procurement process in 2012. Smartmatic, a subsidiary of UK …

  1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
    Coat

    Time to revert to Paper

    and Humans to count the votes.

    What was so wrong with that method?

    One state in the USA is ditching their electronic voting because they are so hackable.

    Over to your Mr Mayor?

    mines the one with a well worn but usable pencil in the pocket.

    1. AMBxx Silver badge

      Re: Time to revert to Paper

      While we're at it, scrap postal votes. The view people who lose their vote is tiny compared to the reduced fraud.

      1. OssianScotland

        Re: Time to revert to Paper

        Personally, if it wasn't for postal votes, I would be more or less permanently disenfranchised. As a consultant, I am away from home more normally than not, and in different places each week, so how could I vote without a postal one? If elections were held at a weekend, it would be different, but with the current setup, postal votes are vital for many mobile workers.

        1. Third Electric

          Re: Time to revert to Paper

          Its why elections should try to be clustered on the same day and then make that a national/bank holiday.

          The reason why UK election days are held on a Thursday because it was market day so most people were in town.

          1. Chris the bean counter

            Re: Time to revert to Paper

            If it was a bank holiday people would take opportunity to go away ! Its also the reason not to use a weekend for voting even though that may seem preferable.

            Thursdays are reasonably fair as the polling stations are open from early in the morning to late in the evening so most people can vote

        2. AMBxx Silver badge

          Re: Time to revert to Paper

          The people losing their vote are spread fairly evenly over the country, leaving the final result unchanged. The fraudulent people tend to be concentrated in certain areas (Tower Hamlets & Birmingham to name two).

        3. Muscleguy Silver badge

          Re: Time to revert to Paper

          Change the rules to allow to cast a vote wherever you are. That's what they do in NZ. In my first vote, away at university, I joined a long line of fellow students in the polling station at the Special Votes counter. Back then you told the agent what constituency you were registered in and he looked it up in a book then hand wrote a ballot based on the sample in the book. I expect they print you one now. But you can vote in ANY polling place in the entire country and it Embassies and High Commissions.

          This idea that you can only vote in ONE specific polling place is antediluvian and other methods are available and work without things like fraud. It also adds spice to close contests as they have to wait for special votes to come in and the eligibility of the voters checked on the local register.

          In NZ you can also vote early and get registered on the day. IOW they fall over backwards to make it easy as pie to vote there and the democracy (with PR) is robust and vibrant. Biggest story at the moment, the Deputy PM (coalition partner) is off having an old rugby injury sorted.

          1. Loud Speaker

            Re: Time to revert to Paper

            "Any place in the country" is not necessarily the solution : I, and most of my family, were unable to vote in the Brexit fiasco because we were out of the country for a family event (Wedding?)

            Postal votes can be submitted early. Only my mother managed to do it - she is 90 years old and bedbound and planned a postal vote in good time. We did not bother - thinking that most people were sensible and Brexit would soon be forgotten.

        4. Cederic Silver badge

          Re: Time to revert to Paper

          I've been postal voting since the job that kept me away from home four nights a week for five years.

          I'd still support ending the fraud ridden postal vote system.

      2. Chris the bean counter

        Re: Time to revert to Paper

        Not sure why this was downvoted. AMBxx absolutely correct that postal votes are open to massive fraud. This is not a theoretical risk but is actually happening especially at local level. There is a big question mark over the recent Peterborough elections as a convicted fraudster assisted in encouraging postal votes. Even if there was no fraud it means the results are tainted with the suspicion.

        Yes there is the need for some postal votes for the housebound but these need to be strictly controlled by the council.

    2. Velv
      Coat

      Re: Time to revert to Paper

      Seriously?

      A pencil?

      Good grief man, don’t you know there’s agents of the opposition in the counting centres who rub out your vote and change it to their candidate!

      You need to order an embossed stamp with indelible ink so that not only is the mark visibly permanent but also physically fixed.

      (Sadly I have “friends” who believe this is necessary, never having read the procedures book from the Electoral Commission)

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Time to revert to Paper

      "One state in the USA is ditching their electronic voting because they are so hackable."

      The real question is "does increasing the speed of an election result do anything for democracy?" - in western countries with established democracies, I doubt that a one or two day voting process has a major impact on the trust in the system. The reality is that most political positions aren't that time critical as you can always fallback to the previous candidate until the result is confirmed.

      Based on Slashdot stories over the last ~20 years, the issue isn't even with some of the voting machines being hackable - they're more likely to have software bugs that cause them to fail to register some or all of the votes and the auditing of actions taken is questionable i.e. some of the machines appear to have only counted one parties votes or potentially had "votes" entered by staff to hide the fact that they failed to register any votes during the day. While these incidents are isolated, little has been done to try and address any of the issues other than prosecute people who highlight the issues.

      Having been directly involved in a council election process, while there are potential areas where fraud could occur, the paper ballots and ability to recount those ballots are the single biggest counter to fraud as you have to be able to fool both observers, security cleared staff doing the counting and those overseeing the election process to the point where no one notices any abnormalities. And even if a formal recount is not requested (we never had an election without at least one recount request as candidates had results that didn't match their polling/expectations in the elections I was involved with or the elections immediately proceeding my involvement), a sample recount would likely identify anything unusual. Pressing a button that gives you the same result in a "recount" is unlikely to add any trust - add in the reduction in the number of people involved in an electronic process combined with the increase in trust required for those administering the systems, I would have major concerns with smaller teams producing faster results in this case.

    4. Nick Kew

      Re: Time to revert to Paper

      Paper and humans, so totally hackable. Not least in the kind of environment where the humans are not personally in positions of such strength as to be able to blow whistles.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "whether electronic counting is in fact the right approach"

    Simple answer : it is not.

    Use paper. That won't cost you £9M this time, and it won't cost you more next time. Better functionality ? It counted the votes last time, didn't it ? So what better functionality is worth double the price ? Is it more secure ? Somehow I doubt that that is what they have improved.

    I want the code to be public and open, so that we can get eyeballs on it and ensure that it does what it says on the tin in the proper way. Until that happens, I won't trust it and neither should anyone else.

    1. Persona Silver badge

      Re: "whether electronic counting is in fact the right approach"

      The code could be public and open. The hardware and firmware it runs on probably wouldn't so you have no real assurance that what you are looking at is what will be "counting" votes.

      1. Cederic Silver badge

        Re: "whether electronic counting is in fact the right approach"

        The firmware is software so why wouldn't that code be public and open too?

    2. not.known@this.address Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: "whether electronic counting is in fact the right approach"

      "Use paper. That won't cost you £9M this time, and it won't cost you more next time. Better functionality ? It counted the votes last time, didn't it ? So what better functionality is worth double the price ? Is it more secure ? Somehow I doubt that that is what they have improved."

      *cough* backhanders *cough*

      /joke?

  3. Blockchain commentard

    Venezuelan-owned Smartmatic - a country well known for its own open and honest elections!!! And since Russia sends 'aid' to Venezuela, there'd be no attempts to "influence" the computers in counting votes at all. Obviously. Goes without saying. No, really.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Alien

      Well, the French own a sizeable part of our electrical supply system, so how do we know they are not sending signals that cleverly interfere with computers? And Russian oligarchs send aid to the Conservative Party. Boris Johnson is a Russo-French plot. Obviously. Ca va sans dire. Yozh znaet.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        According to Private Eye various Russians also send aid to the minister in charge of the secret services...

    2. Blazde Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Hmm I dunno, Venezuala or not, Smartmatic really sounds like a brand you can trust. I mean the product is obviously smart, and it's automatic. It's modern, even a little futuristic. And it doesn't sound at all like a made-up gizmo from an 80s cartoon episode who's plot pivots around the unexpected failure of said gizmo.

  4. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Mushroom

    This has to be a scam

    At multiple levels. There is no benefit at all to voting integrity, and no shortage of costs (of every type).

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Where do I apply for the gig?

    2,646,832 valid votes cast at the last election, so about £3.40 per vote. I'll do it for 8 million?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Costs a lot

    Must cost a fair bit to add GPS to the voting booths to make sure they stuff plenty of false votes for the mayor in those eastern boroughs.

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Re: Costs a lot

      Care to elaborate on that paranoid drivel? How does adding GPS to booths aid vote stuffing?

      (Reposted as a reply, since I accidentally and wrongly created a new comment).

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Costs a lot

        Arguably gps tracking of ballot boxes would detect if they had made a detour to a party office to be stuffed.

        Alternatively you could install an electronic system and give the job to whoever got the lowest vote - on the basis that they weren't being supported by American/ Russian/ N Belgian state sponsored hackers.

        1. Stuart Moore
          Thumb Up

          Re: Costs a lot

          Monster raving loonies in charge? Sounds better than the current situation...

          1. OssianScotland

            Re: Costs a lot

            I thought they were already

  7. This post has been deleted by its author

  8. SVV

    The Electoral Commission have long called for a proper cost benefit analysis

    Cost benefit analysis? Where new and shiny eTech is involved? You must be joking! Everyone knows that tech is always marvellous and wonderful, right?

    And even if they do a cost benefit exercise, most people proposing projects such as this forget to do the step of doubling the estimated cost to make the thing vaguely realistic. Especially when they've outsourced it (i.e. nearly every time for British government IT).

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Facepalm

    Costing the system?

    Take the initial amount then multiply by three and add the initial amount back in.

  10. Jove Bronze badge

    Smartmatic

    "The company was also recently blamed for a number of technical glitches in the Philippine elections."

    Glitches or back-doors/additional functionality/voter identification facilities?

  11. Chris the bean counter

    £9M is over £1 per voter

    Bank tellers who are traditionally used (yes there are fewer of them these days but still more than enough) can count 1,000+ votes an hour. At £25 per hour per teller that works out at less than a penny per voter

    Vote counting machines are not the same risk as electronic voting as audits are easy to do but frankly no real benefits over manual counting. Plus risk of delay if there is a software fault etc

  12. Sven Coenye
    Unhappy

    Par for the course for CGI

    CGI made a complete hash of the Vermont health insurance "marketplace" application. The contract was terminated as it became obvious CGI was incapable of coming up with something that didn't fall over as soon as it encountered real world loads. They still walked off with $66M

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