There is still more to do to achieve the best standards in elections

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The recent elections failed fully to come up to international standards.

Firstly, the ballot paper should be but is not anonymous.



Secondly, party agents in the polling stations are able to collect data on individual voters.

In most elections conducted under the guidelines of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, party agents are allowed to observe the voting process in the round – they are normally seated in one corner of the polling station – but they are not allowed access to the register or to the identity of any particular voter.

Thirdly, the count transfers.

Take, for example, Strangford. Hamilton (DUP), the beneficiary of a transfer from his eliminated party colleague Harvey, was elected at stage 7 of the count with a relatively small surplus of 320 votes.

This was distributed at stage 10, by which time four candidates had been elected, eight had been excluded, and only three of the original 15 remained to contest the last two seats. One might expect a few of these 320 to be either deliberately non-transferable, or non-transferable by default because the chosen subsequent preference candidate(s) did not include any of the three.

But no; all 320 votes were transferred, all “Totals Correct” – – (although stage 11 is “in error”!)

As predicted, counts can be capricious because some transfers are made according to the wishes of the relevant voters – and quite right too – while some are made as if all concerned had transferred in the same way as those who did cast further preferences.

After many years campaigning against this quirk in the rules, a delegation went to see the then Minister, George Howarth MP.

He agreed there was cause for concern but suggested we should meet his Chief Electoral Officer because, he said, he (the minister) didn’t really understand voting systems.

So we did but, he said, he (the CEO), didn’t really understand voting systems.

Peter Emerson, Director, The de Borda Institute Belfast BT14