Complex, Combined Scottish Elections
e-Counting delivers accurate results for complex, combined Scottish elections
In May 2007, Returning Officers in Scotland’s 32 local authorities were responsible for counting votes for the Scottish Parliamentary election that included two separate votes for each voter (the constituency and the regional vote) using two separate election methods, First Past The Post (FPTP) and the Additional Member System (AMS) – combined, for the first time, on one single ballot paper. This was combined with the Local Government elections which, also for the very first time, used a complex Single Transferable Vote (STV) method, counting not one, but many preferences from every ballot paper.
Prompted by the introduction of the STV system for local government elections, it was decided that the use of e-Counting technology had the potential to streamline the huge task of counting votes for what was to be one of the most complex election events ever seen in the UK.
In preparation for the 2007 Scottish elections, the Scottish Executive and Scotland Office embarked on a project to trial and evaluate electronic counting technology and selected e-Counting specialist DRS, in partnership with Electoral Reform Services Limited (ERS), as the service partner for this innovative and ground-breaking project.
Together, DRS and ERS offered the complete solution to deliver a system able to confidently manage the most complex of elections. DRS offered the specialised technology to read and recognize both ‘X’ mark ballot papers and hand printed characters – in real time, whilst ERS delivered a unique level of expertise on the complex subject of managing and calculating STV elections. Together this partnership offered the Scottish Executive and Scotland Office a united body of experience, unsurpassed within the elections market.
Each of the 32 local authorities in Scotland were actively involved in the programme of trials and the Scottish Executive and Scotland Office invited stakeholders with an interest in the elections to observe the system in action before any decision was made on its deployment. Following the success of this project, the Scottish Executive and Scotland Office confirmed that the technology would be used by local authorities wishing to automate the complex processes for the Scottish Parliament and Local Authority elections on 3rd May 2007.
Minister for Finance and Public Service Reform, Tom McCabe said "The use of e-Counting will provide quick, accurate and reliable results in the 2007 elections. The Single Transferable Vote count for the local authority elections is a complex process. e-Counting will be able to handle this count effectively and efficiently. It will dramatically reduce the amount of time to complete the count in comparison to a manual count.”
With the contract awarded one year before the project, the DRS project management team began intensive planning for the implementation of the e-Counting solution. From developing the application software and designing and printing the ballot papers, right through to manufacturing the 320 e-Counting scanners required to process the ballot papers. 31 counting centres were identified and DRS ensured full on-site technical and managerial support was provided at every location. A comprehensive training programme was undertaken throughout February, March and April 2007 with all local authority staff involved in the count taking part.
The high profile 2007 combined Scottish Parliament and Local Government elections were extremely complex. The Parliamentary ballot paper contained two contests on the same paper - using first past the post for the constituency member, and an additional member system for the regional member. The Local Government ballot paper contained a voting system that had never been used before in Scotland - the Single Transferable Vote. Despite these complexities, DRS e-Counting technology counted the votes accurately, transparently and securely with declarations being made from 00:30 on Friday 4th May – if counted manually, the results of the Local Government elections would not have been available until several days later.
In Glasgow City, the single largest count in Scotland, the Local Government ballot papers using the STV election system were scanned in just over two hours, and results were available for the Returning Officer’s scrutiny soon after. This experience was repeated around Scotland with some Returning Officers choosing to count all contests through the night, and some choosing to break between the Scottish Parliament count and the counting of the Local Government contests.
Due to the closeness of one result in Aberdeen, a full Scottish Parliament constituency recount was undertaken on Friday. The results of the recount fully endorsed the original count, underlining the accuracy, reliability and robustness of the DRS e-counting system, as well as the consistency of the Local Authority adjudication process.
DRS e-Counting technology delivered 32 secure counts in Scotland – producing results for just under 500 individual contests in under 24 hours as opposed to the several days estimated to count the same election manually.
“I was completely happy with the performance of DRS at the Scottish Borders election count. The systems appeared to work flawlessly, the staff were of the highest calibre, and their commitment to getting the job done equalled that of my own staff.” David Hume, Returning Officer for Scottish Borders
"I was very pleased that we were able to declare all five Fife parliamentary constituencies by 4am on Friday morning. The Fife Council declarations on Friday afternoon also went very smoothly. The process was very open with all the candidates and their election agents able to easily oversee the emptying of ballot boxes, the scanning of ballot papers and the adjudication process on ballot papers.” Ronnie Hinds, Returning Officer for Fife Council
“Shetland had one of the most successful elections on record, in terms of candidate participation, voter turnout, speed of completion of both counts and overall local satisfaction with the process.” J R Riise, Returning Officer for Shetland Islands Council