Filled in the form? Think you’re registered to vote? Hah! Gotcha!
The problems became apparent as soon as the GDS web service went live. The bug reports came in overnight.
At a stroke, the Electoral Register was a lot shorter than it had been. And bizarre anomalies began to pop up. A five-year-old boy in Crewe had been given the vote – but he couldn’t get off the Electoral Register, because he couldn’t produce his National Insurance number. He couldn’t produce his National Insurance number because he didn’t have one.
Problems with data matching were endemic. One particular one reoccurred – and was raised during the Cabinet Office pilots, but brushed aside. After completing the GDS form, an eligible voter who had been on the Electoral Roll for twenty years failed to get on the Electoral Register. Why? She’d acquired citizenship many years before, and her National Insurance number was in her maiden name. Using the GDS form, she’d applied in her married name. The name and the NI check didn’t match.
When the voter rang her ERO office, the ERO explained that staff had experienced exactly the same problem during the Cabinet Office’s pilots. Yet nobody thought it important enough to identify as a problem. Astonishingly, GDS had failed to include a basic data Captcha state to weed out junk data. It simply packaged up the data gathered from the web form and handed it over to Electoral Registration Officers to sort out.
There may be a more insidious problem. GDS boasted it was “registering people to vote”, yet, as has been pointed out:
"The level of confusion GDS have sown with their IER publicity is impressive. We now have people filling in the form thinking that they have as a result registered to vote. They haven't. They've submitted an application to register to vote,” wrote Whitehall-watcher David Moss on his blog.
As the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones found this week, the process is ambiguous at best. Have you got a vote or not? It’s hard to tell. And that’s hardly “simpler, clearer and faster”, as GDS promised it would be. In response to complaints, GDS has swapped one ambiguous feedback message for another.
“'Your name is not yet on the electoral register,' had now been replaced with, 'Your application has been received and is being processed.'" wrote Rory. “That still left me unclear whether or not I was on the register and there is no way of checking online.”
However that’s merely the surface. As one reader reported after reporting the married name glitch: “They don't check for multiple names against an NI number (maiden/married etc.); they don't check date of birth. Did Steve Bong do this in his spare time? Or perhaps a Year Of Code teenager coded it?”