Last week, the nation turned out in record numbers (45 per cent) to decide who would run their local councils. In London, that meant voting Boris Johnson into what Ken Livingstone probably thought was his office for life.
Some time earlier, the Open Rights Group had called for volunteers to be part of an election observation mission, to see how the electronic counting process worked. In a burst of democratic fervour I signed up, and last Thursday found myself stalking down to a polling station in Hackney, wearing my official observer accreditation, and poking my nose in, in an official capacity.
Of course it took me a while to find the polling station. The local "youths" had been entertaining themselves by moving the signs to the polling station around. Arrows were pointing the wrong way, and some signs had been left outside people's houses. Of course, messing with access to the polls cannot be condoned, but I was impressed with one particular rearrangement of signs that sent hapless voters wandering literally in circles.
Having finally made my way to the station, I met one of the poll workers who muttered some things about the local "youths" in terms which I shall not repeat here, and set off to put the signs back in place. The presiding officer called the police, who tried to explain to the hooded BMX-ers that disenfranchising the public was not a highly regarded activity.
Broadly satisfied that democracy had not broken down at the polls, I headed home.
Bonfire of the ballot boxes
On Friday, I was dispatched to the Alexandra Palace counting centre. This is where ranks upon ranks of Fujitsu scanners would process hundreds of thousands of ballot papers, and ultimately determine who would be in charge at London's City Hall. Not the best choice perhaps, given the historic edifice's tendency to go up in flames. Nevertheless, we watched as the returning officer checked that the database had no data already in it, and the count began.
ORG has asked us not to discuss our findings until they have had a chance to complete their report. But it has been widely noted in the press that many of the ballot boxes were not properly sealed at the start of the count. This I certainly saw in all four of the constituencies being counted at Alexandra Palace. Some boxes seemed to have been improperly sealed, and may never have been closed. Others looked as though they could have been closed initially, but that the tape had not stuck properly.