Computer issues delay Scottish election results

The results of Scotland’s elections have been thrown into chaos and results delayed by technical problems with the newly introduced electronic counting system.

The Electoral Commission announced a full independent review as it emerged that counting in elections for the Scottish Parliament and local government had been delayed in many areas of the country.

Problems were also reported with pilot e-counting and Internet voting systems in England, independent digital rights observers said.

It is understood that counts in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Argyll and Bute, Eastwood, Perth and Tayside North, and Strathkelvin and Bearsden were all suspended until later on Friday.

The computerized counting system was provided by specialist supplier DRS, which was selected by the Scotland Office and the Scottish Executive in June last year after a successful trial and evaluation.

Scotland went to the polls Thursday for both the local government elections — using a transferable vote system, with voters allocating numbers to their preferred candidates — and the Scottish Parliament elections, where the traditional “first past the post” system is used and voters mark the ballot with an X.

DRS provided specialized technology designed to read and recognize both X marks and the hand printed characters used on the transferable voting ballot papers.

But a spokesperson for the Scotland Office said: “Counts have been delayed quite significantly today. They have not been declared when we thought they would be.”

He confirmed there had been “technical hitches” with the DRS counting system. “We encountered technical problems last night and this morning. It’s pretty widespread.”

But he added that widely reported problems with rejected ballot papers were “not to do with the machines” but with voters having trouble completing the ballot papers. The Scotland Office was not yet looking beyond getting the count finished, he said. “Our main focus is to get the results.”

A spokesperson for DRS said: “The issue involved a blockage at the end of the counting process, which prevented consolidation of the data.” The scanners used to count each vote — or capture an image of unclear ballot papers for adjudication by the returning officer — had worked without problems, she said.

The data “was secure in the system” but could not be consolidated into a format showing results that could be passed to returning officers. “That meant the results could not be announced.”

The problem had been “a localized one,” she said. “The majority [of counting centers] were absolutely fine.”

The Electoral Commission said it would undertake a full, independent review of the elections in Scotland. “In particular, it will be focusing on the reasons for the high number of rejected ballots; the electronic counting process; and the arrangements for postal voting,” it said.

The move to electronic counting in Scotland was prompted by the introduction of the transferable vote system for the country’s local authority elections. Electronic counting was successfully used in elections to the London Assembly in 2001.

Data privacy campaign the Open Rights Group said its independent observers had noted problems both in Scotland and in England, where 12 local authority areas piloted new voting and counting technologies including Internet and telephone voting.

The group’s e-voting coordinator, Jason Kitcat, said: “Our observers can confirm that they are reporting problems in Scotland and England in areas where there are new technologies.” Observers had seen “a similar type of problem” with electronic counting in England to that in Scotland, “and some problems with Internet and phone voting as well,” he said.

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