Voting must be secret and secure

Winston Churchill once remarked that democracy was the worst form of government except for all those other methods which have actually been tried. Whether or not he was right, the central virtue of elections is that they enable people to take decisions without resorting to civil war. But that in turn presupposes honest and transparent methods for counting the votes. Any ‘modernising’ of our voting procedures which give rise to doubt and suspicion, is a recipe for going backwards, not forwards!

Perils of postal voting
In 2004 Labour pushed through legislation for all-postal ballots across the North of England against the recommendations of all the relevant Parliamentary and other bodies. The aim was to improve the turnout (something which can be achieved in other ways which Labour are refusing to implement, notably by proportional and preferential voting systems which make people feel that there vote really can make a difference).

The result was to take away from millions of people our fundamental Right to a Secret Ballot.

Not only does postal voting enable dominant heads of households to monitor how members of families vote, it also creates a situation where crooked politicians and gangsters can put the word around that there’s £3 quid in it for every ballot paper they are brought before the election.

Votes are being Stolen
“Across the Country the voting system is being abused. People are intimidated into voting in a particular way or their vote is stolen by political activists. Many election results are determined by how willing any particular party is to be involved in political fraud.

”This is no less than the abolition of democracy. Free and Fair elections are being replaced by gangsterism and terrorism. It may not have reached you as yet. However, that does not mean it is not happening.

“A number of political activists who oppose this abuse of democracy have agreed to campaign to save democracy. These include:

Conservatives

Cllr John Alden, Birmingham City Council Liberal Democrats

Lord Tony Greaves

Cllr John Hemming, Birmingham City Council

Plaid Cymru

Lyn David Thomas ”

As well as giving examples of growing electoral fraud in Birmingham, Bradford, Pendle and Llanelli, their website http://www.stolenvotes.org.uk also gives their submissions to the (often worryingly naive) Electoral Commission.

A recent article in the Guardian lists several other parts of the country where police investigations are taking place. And this was trumped by a fine Special Report, How Safe is your Vote? - by Malcolm Hall in the Independent on March 21st, 2005.

John Hemming, author of the Aston and Bordesly Green election petition, has a blog in which we can follow the progress of his application for …

Judicial Review of Prime Minister’s Decision to Call Election without anti-fraud procedures

“ I have started the process (A letter before action sent to the Treasury Solicitors) of judicially reviewing the Prime Minister’s decision to call a General Election without anti-fraud procedures.

The European Convention on Human Rights includes the following: ARTICLE 3

RIGHT TO FREE ELECTIONS

The High Contracting Parties undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature.

The absence of measures against fraud means that: ”under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people“

Is not satisfied.

I have asked for the following four changes: The first proposal is that a change is needed so that postal votes are counted separately to non-postal votes.

The second proposal is that the same access is given to parties to check application forms as exists for checking Declarations of identity.

The third proposal is to extend the period for Election Petitions to 2 months from 21 days.

The fourth proposal is to require presiding officers to keep a list of voters who attend to vote in person and are found on the absent voters list and to allow them to submit a tendered ballot.”

Hemmings points out that a simple staturoty instrument could introduce all these changes, pending more thorough review.

Tor read the copy of the judgment of Judge Mowray delivered on 4th April, 2005, click on this page from the marvellous Eurolegal site.

A good summary of the situation, with revealing international comparisons, is by Michael Meadowcroft in the Yorkshire Post:

“These manipulations, and dozens of tricks incapable of being spotted, were predicted in advance in these columns in February and June last year. In the light of all the evidence the Electoral Commission has finally accepted that all-postal ballots are unsafe and recommended that their use be discontinued. And the Labour government’s response to this advice from the independent commission set up to advise on electoral administration? It is ignoring it.

I find this astonishing. A party of government whose representatives have been caught in the act of electoral fraud, as a direct consequence of laws it has passed, has the nerve to disregard all the evidence and the recommendation of the independent Electoral Commission and simply to continue with a flawed electoral process for party advantage. It demonstrates just how far Labour has abandoned any ethical pretensions. Robert Mugabe would be very proud of such emulation.

We now have evidence of massive increases in applications for postal votes, not spontaneously arriving across the board from individual electors but fostered by party activists in particular wards and constituencies - including the same Birmingham wards which have just come before the courts. The potential for abuse is massive and I have no doubt that a number of marginal seats will be “stolen” by those who set out to drive a horse and cart across the welcome mat and through the wide open door for abuse proffered by postal voting. All absentee voting is vulnerable and should be minimised. Ideally it should only be available to for those physically outside the constituency on polling day, and even then with better safeguards for proof of identity. Everyone else unable to reach a polling station should be able to apply for a mobile ballot box to visit them. ”

Keep the Stubby Pencil on a String!
Our standard voting mechanism goes more or less like this: stubby pencils on strings in voting booths, the controlled issue of ballot papers which are placed in publicly sealed and opened ballot boxes, and then publicly counted. This Stubby Pencil on a String (etc) system is an excellent system for doing the most important job of all - resolving disagreements about who gets to take certain key decisions in a way which everybody can see isn’t rigged. All attempts to ‘modernise’ this perfectly evolved societal technology result in our going backwards, not forwards!

Consider the many TV and radio shows where the audience votes by phoning in (at 25 pence a minute), texting or e-mail. Even if we assume the organisers are always honest, any serious computer professionals know that text and e-mail are inherently open to electronic hackers, either skilled amateurs or possibly extremely well-equipped and enabled professionals in the shape of secret agencies acting for the ruling party.

As for electronic voting machines there are major concerns about fraud in the many countries who are being pushed down that road by the IMF, such as India, Brazil, Argentina, Venezeula and many other countries where it is both sinister and obscene that expensive and hard-to-check technology is being invested in to do a worse job than cheap string, pencils, boxes and sealing wax.

As for the US elections of 1996 (e.g. Nebraska), 2000, 2002 (e.g. Georgia) and 2004 (e.g. Florida, Ohio, etc) -many readers will be programmed by our ‘independent’ media to shut down any doubts with the usual ridicule of ‘conspiracy theorists’. However, if some readers wish to investigate for themselves with an alert, critical open mind, we suggest you may like to start with the websites listed below. (But first, back to the rest of this one, please?!)

http://www.blackboxvoting.org
http://www.chuckherrin.com/hackthevote.htm
http://bellaciao.org/en/mot.php3?id_mot=49

The most modern democracy money can buy
In the light of all this it beggars belief that the Electoral Commission sees itself as ‘working with’ the government to deliver a series of local electronically enabled pilots in the next few years, so as to help the government reach its promise to introduce 'an e-enabled general election sometime after the year 2006'.

We have been warned.

Those LibDems, Greens, Respecters and Tories who contemplate a leisurely progress by ‘normal times’ politics to accumulate a majority of votes by 2008 or 10 or 13 etc, etc - should join is in asking: How many more years before Diebold and the rest start ‘delivering Ohio’ (or Basingstoke) for the Neo-Con’s Man in Number Ten?

Unless we resist these developments with all our democratic might, all the rest of our party politics is so much window-dressing and charades.

[Subsequent development, added Dec 2005]:

Government links voting to ID cards

Earlier this year the government announced that it wasn't going to push through with plans for an 'e-enabled gneneral election' - but many of us always suspected that this was just a retreat 'pour mieux sauter'.

(Note that by allowing the postal fraud to blossom recently the government then positions itself to pretend that centralised IT systems are the solution for the problem it origninally engineered in the first place; And that in turn was a 'response' to a problem of declining turnout which they deliberately didn't want to address by the obvious means, namely by allowing voters to have a voter-empowering and proportional-outcome delivering voting system. )

Now comesa great article by John Lettice in a professional IT website, entitled: Government moots ID card links for new UK voter database.

 http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/12/16/core_voting_system/

Near the end he summarises:
"So shall we just summarise all that? We started with an 'old fashioned' electoral system that worked, but noting with some anxiety that people seemed less and less inclined to vote,* we started to make it less trouble for them to do so. We haven't been able to make it as easy as 'press red button on remote' yet, but we'll get there. Unfortunately, the hardships associated with old fashioned voting turn out (as the wonks running policy would have known if they'd ever done any actual work in a real-life election campaign) to have had a series of helpful safeguards against abuse built in. In addition to now having a pressing need to deal with the problems we've just created, we also need to figure out how to verify cable TV voting, and text messages that go 'press reply to vote New Labour'. The less trouble we make it to vote though, the more pressing the issue of verification becomes, so we conclude that we can't leave this in the hands of local authorities - we decide we have to handle it centrally, and use data matching with multiple other national databases as part of the verification process.

"If we were actually thinking this through clearly (of course we're not), it might occur to us that, if the National Identity Register is intended to be the 'gold standard' of identification, then what we should really be doing (and will end up doing anyway) is using other databases (including the electoral registers) to maintain the accuracy of the gold standard, rather than vice versa. That, in any event, is where following the logic of the Government's approach to databases should take us - note, before you write in, that this does not necessarily make it the sensible approach. In the particular case of the electoral registers, decentralised systems which to a reasonable extent did the simple job required of them are to be replaced by a centralised system which initially will at best have the same level of accuracy (because the NIR does not yet exist, and will not be complete for many years), but which promises all sorts of benefits as the spin off of data matching, and comes complete with the security disadvantages ('challenges', in Government-speak) of a centralised system. Might it not be better to modernise the existing decentralised systems? But we presume that's what the Government is going to insist, in the face of the evidence, that it's doing anyway.

Naturally, the new centralised system will come with the potential security hole that's becoming pretty much standard issue for giant citizen databases..... "