Independent observers are being blocked from properly observing the trials of electronic voting at the UK's forthcoming local elections.
Jason Kitcat, e-voting coordinator for the Open Rights Group (ORG), says that one of the councils involved in the pilots of electronic and remote voting technologies has refused to allow the ORG's observers access to the servers on which the votes will be stored and counted. He declined to name the council concerned.
Under the 2006 amendments to the Electoral Administration Act, observers who have been accredited by the Department of Constitutional Affairs are entitled to attend: proceedings at the issue or receipt of postal ballot papers; proceedings at the poll; proceedings at the counting of votes.
But this has been interpreted by many councils as meaning that observers can access the halls where the result of the electronic vote is displayed, rather than allowing access to the servers which will actually count and store the result of the electronic vote.
"This means that there is a part of the vote that we can't observe," Kitcat says.
He goes on to explain that the Electoral Commission issued clarification for the councils involved in the pilots, which include Bedford, Rushmoor, Sheffield, Shrewsbury and Atcham, South Bucks, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Swindon. It stated that the law doesn't specifically apply to non-paper ballots, but that it recommended that councils co-operate with observers, nonetheless.
This means that despite being fully accredited by the DCA, ORG observers are having to negotiate with councils for access to electronic voting centres, and the electronic counting areas.
This seems to rather miss the point of independent observers.
But the DCA says it doesn't know of any councils or suppliers that are refusing observers secure access to evoting servers.
It issued a statement, saying "Under provision in the EA Act accredited observers have the same access rights as candidates and agents. That will give them rights to access all count centres and polling stations, and to observe the issue of electronic vote credentials."
Kitcat says that observers from his organisation are "relying on grace and favour agreements" from councils to get the access they should be being granted by rights. ®