Compulsory Voter Registration: Yes, No or Maybe

Filed under: Electoral,Policy — lenand @ 9:36 am
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The question is simple.  Will electoral registration become compulsory? An answer in June 2012 from the Cabinet Office is not the ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ we might have expected:

The Electoral Registration and Administration Bill provides that Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) will be able to issue a civil penalty to individuals who, when required to make an application, fail to do so. There will be safeguards in place to ensure that only those who refuse repeated invitations can be fined, and registration officers will have to take specific steps to encourage an application before they can issue a fine. We expect the number of fines levied to be similar to the number of prosecutions for failing to respond to the canvass under the current system, of which there are approximately 150 per year. This will provide strong encouragement for people to do their civic duty and register to vote. It is not the Government’s intention to allow people to opt-out of registering to vote, or to opt-out of jury service. Equally there is no provision in the Bill to allow people to remove themselves from the register should they so wish. EROs will however be able to remove entries from the register where they have evidence that the application submitted was fraudulent, or is no longer accurate.

Maybe, or don’t panic, seems to be the response from the Electoral Registration Transformation Programme (ERTP).  Central policy is yet again, leave it to harassed local government EROs to decide on how to implement the Law.


IER: How do we know where you live?

Filed under: Electoral,Local Government,Policy — lenand @ 2:01 pm
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The IER Progress Presentation July 2012 (Slide 3) Policy says:

  • For verification, people must provide their National Insurance number and date of birth

Is there anything missing?

One would have expected to see an address for an Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) accepting a registration.  It is an on-line registration process, but where is the link between a person and a valid address (as defined by a Local Authority)?

The payment of Council Tax by one person could be trusted electronically by a Council, but what about other people living at the same address?  Wouldn’t it be easy if the Council Tax payer could vouch for additional voters?  Back to Square One.

What is the process for the 30% of people, entitled to vote, who do not have access to Web sites?  A postal canvass?  Back to Square One.  If not, there will be a lot of disenfranchised digitally deprived denizens.

IER Update – Compulsory registration

Filed under: Electoral,Local Government,Strategy,Technology — lenand @ 10:48 am
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To be fair, the IER Progress Presentation July 2012 did not use the word ‘compulsory’ for voter registration, but the meaning is clear.

  • “Opt-out” dropped
  • Civil penalty for people who refuse to register ….but ERO must take steps before can be used

This is the result of the consultation process for the Electoral Reform Act (2012).  The objective is to reduce risk of losing voters with more levers to drive registration and to build a more accurate register during the transition to the new scheme.  Believers in our democratic system should be pleased – the current method is too incredible for foreigners to believe.

We have also been given an overview of the IER Digital Service.

IER System Architecture

This separates the web application used by the citizen with two centrally controlled and hosted systems.  One is run by DWP and the other by the System Owner (Cabinet Office or DCLG?).  Local Authorities (LA1 to LA400+) are expected buy and operate a system from one of four Electoral Management Systems (EMSA to EMSB).  The lines and boxes are easy to draw, but what are the implications to the local Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) and their ICT service departments?

Some more questions spring to mind:

  1.  If citizens have to register on the national site, what local credentials do they have to provide?
  2. Does the DWP verification imply that somewhere they hold a register of all voters? If so, how does this map to the national policy not to hold national identification scheme?
  3. How much trust can the LA put on the identity of the voter, knowing that DWP data is 34% inaccurate?

No doubt all will become clear in due course and the risk register will be opened up to let us all see the major concerns.   The Cabinet Office “want to talk to as many people as necessary – what forums, groups and networks do you know of that could help spread the word?

SOCITM should be high up the list of organisations to help in the impact assessment to local authority ICT systems.  The current register may have additional local uses that have not yet hit the radar.


IER (aka IVR): data matching shambles

Filed under: Electoral,Governance,Local Government,Politics — lenand @ 1:45 pm
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Individual Electoral Registration (IER, and also previously known as IVR, or Individual Voter Registration) is the subject of many Cabinet Office papers. Over 400 Councils, their Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) and their ICT departments are faced with one almighty problem to get it operating smoothly in time for the 2015 general election.

The lack of preparation was apparent by November 2011. The Cabinet Office have developed a framework and run a number of data matching pilots with LAs.  The results are no surprise.

“Of the data sets tested in the pilot the DWP data set had the highest match rate (the proportion of the electoral register that could be successfully matched within the national data). On average, two- thirds of the electoral register (66 per cent) could be matched within this data set.”

This is typical for the quality of data matching between local and central government data bases. The experience with the Child Index (aka ContactPoint) and the Data Connects work contains innumerable lessons that have not been learnt. More effort should have been placed on developing an implementation framework that assumes that data quality will be poor.   We all know that 90% of data cleansing effort goes into error handling and the Cabinet Office should not assume that data matching will be good enough.

The fact is that quality isn’t good enough is reinforced by the March Electoral Commission report. To quote:

“The pilots did not follow processes, in terms of the IT systems and matching arrangements, which would be used for nationwide data matching. The evaluation cannot therefore draw conclusions about how the costs of these pilots would translate to a national roll-out.”

In effect we have lost at least two years in the programme. It will be no surprise if this is proclaimed as Yet Another Government IT Failure (YAGIF). It will not be a failure of ICT, but a failure of mandarins to understand how LAs operate.

A Cabinet Office key finding is:

 “Generally, the level of public interest or concern regarding the pilots was reported to be low”

A cynic might think IVR can fail without embarrassment – Electoral Reform is in the portfolio of the Deputy Prime Minister.


IER: Matching Mayhem

The Cabinet Office recently published a number of papers on the  Introduction of the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill.  With barely a third of electors bothering to vote in local elections, what is the likely impact of any new processes in increasing the number of voters?  It does not feature in any of the documents.  Reducing fraud and increasing accuracy seems to be the driver – not democratic accountability.

  • It is a widely held view that the current system for registration is vulnerable to fraud and a public perception that this allows electoral fraud to occur.
  • Individual Electoral Registration (IER) should therefore improve the accuracy of the register and allow people to register in different ways. 

The preferred option is to pre-populate the electoral register with electors who can be validated against public data sources in 2014/15 and then require the remaining electorate, future house movers, and new voters to register (and have their registration validated) from 2014/15 onwards.

As previously reported by Quarkside, the scary part is the data matching against public data sources by 400+ local authority Electoral Registration Officers (EROs). “…confirmation is expected to pre-populate the register with 57% of the eligible electorate“, leaving 43% to be found by other means.  This assumption is derived from the 2012 Electoral Commission report on Data matching schemes.  Delving deeper into this, we find a startling recommendation that

  • The pilots did not follow processes, in terms of the IT systems and matching arrangements, which would be used for nationwide data matching. The evaluation cannot therefore draw conclusions about how the costs of these pilots would translate to a national roll-out.

Not only that, the poor quality of the matching data showed:

  • … the average match in the pilot areas using Department for Work and Pensions data was 66%.

And everybody knows, the highest costs are the result of solving poor data quality problems.  Has this been factored into the Cabinet Office calculations.

  • The process, as tested in these pilots, was labour intensive with significant work required to analyse the data. Those involved felt that the level of work required would not be sustainable in the future.

The prognosis is not good – but we shall battle on regardless of all the warnings emanating from Local Government EROs and computer service departments.  We need a secure, consistent, governance framework that can be followed by all Councils – at a price the nation can afford.


ICT Skills Shortage. Mulligatawny Message.

Jos Creese’s blog Public Service Reform and IT exposes the problem faced by non-central government:

… the opportunities are significant to use existing local IT investment, infrastructure and skills to help reduce the impact on the public of contraction across the wider public sector.

There are, in my view, huge opportunities for local public services to work together. Too often in the past, government policy has focussed on national join-up (for example the NHS, Police, etc), but this has not delivered sufficient pace at an acceptable cost. We do need national policy and vision, but we also need local implementation.

The problem lies in the skills deficit, particularly for small districts in our feudal two tier system of local government.  How can hard-pressed ICT managers (CIOs may not exist there) be expected to implement TOGAF, OpenID and EAS in a structured approach to enterprise architecture?  How will they cope with Open Source procurements for eID and Individual Voter Registration?

Just watch the space if you want to see evidence of massive duplication of effort.  ICT strategic planning and enterprise architecture skills are spread too thinly for optimum efficiency.  It’s close to a recipe for Mulligatawny Soup.

Jos is right though, the smaller agencies authorities need to work together locally, in partnerships, where they can share a bowl of scarce skills.


eID: Apps need Assertions

Filed under: Electoral,Policy,Strategy,Technology,Time — lenand @ 8:49 am
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eID in a federated environment has many complex governance aspects.  It does have a major impact in the applications which may use it.  Stian Sigvartsen has been running a blog for a couple of months on “Achieving a federated single view of the customer“.  The benefit of the postings is an exposure of some technical detail.  Take a look if you are that way inclined.

The broader message is that the human brain is the most cost effective processor of short lists of potential identity matches.  Matches are often obvious when combined with local knowledge and it is possible make assertions of identity with an indication of probability.  Records would show the eID of the asserter and a time stamp.  All assertions can be then incorporated into incrementally improving federated searches.  Audit trails would then be so much easier to follow.

These concepts need to be built into all identity registration schemes, such as Individual Voter Registration.



50million Voter Id Cards?

Filed under: Electoral,Outcomes,Policy,Politics,Privacy — lenand @ 10:39 pm
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Changing the legislation around voting in Northern Ireland has one rather surprising unintended consequence.  Young people have to be registered when they are 16-17 years old, just as in the rest of the UK.  However, when they become 18, they then can then apply for an Electoral Identity Card.  Complete with photograph.   This is now highly valued, trusted, evidence of age allowing them to buy alcohol in public houses.

This is good news for the publicans and brewers who prefer to keep within the law.

Perhaps it is also good news for encouraging young people to vote in Northern Ireland.

Perhaps England, Wales and Scotland should consider the same route to meet the objectives of the Individual Voter Registration Act.  A photocard with other electronic credentials could be valued by more members of the population – and other suppliers of goods and services.  It may comeback to haunt me, but I shall quote Sir James Crosby , who said:

“In the absence of a universal ID assurance system, I believe consumers will have to grapple with an increasingly complex array of identity assurance processes of uncertain quality. As a result, the UK will fail to secure the economic and social advantage achievable at the forefront of ID assurance systems and processes. In a competitive world, any failure to secure advantage quickly becomes tantamount to locking in disadvantage. In other words, the opportunities inherent in ID assurance will not have been grasped but the challenges will remain.”

Bryan Glick blogged the unthinkable back in May, when the ID Card scheme was cancelled: “But even if Crosby himself was pilloried, his proposals for an alternative to ID cards merit serious consideration by our new coalition government.”  Odds on that it is too much of a political hot potato.


Panic predictable for Election 2015

The Cabinet Office new responsibilities and funding will include: “… £85m to support the introduction of individual electoral registration (IER) in 2014 to help tackle electoral fraud by moving away from household registration and confirming identities through secondary sources.”

In total, that sounds a reasonable amount of money, doesn’t it?  Just to keep it in round numbers, that’s about £200k per Local Authority (LA).   What does each council have to do for its money?  My random list:

  • Re-vamp or re-write the current electoral registration software
  • Introduce and communicate new processes, including for postal and proxy voters
  • Verify identity in each LA by using 14 (or more) local and national databases by matching (or not) against the Electoral Register
  • Identify people who are entitled to vote, but have not registered
  • Prevent access to personal data from unauthorised people.

We will finish up with about 400 independent local registers of voters.  So far, so good (as long as you believe that any LA could perform all those non-trivial tasks for £200k).  One of my favourite tools of project management is the crystal ball.  It usually works.  However, if you don’t feel comfortable telling your boss – the best view of the future can be seen by looking at what happened in the past.  The closest I can get to a comparison, from personal knowledge, is ContactPoint.

ContactPoint (RIP) created a single central data base, rather than 400 disconnected databases, but had otherwise comparable, but smaller, numbers:

  • 10 million citizens (vs 50 million),
  • 150 LAs (vs 400 LAs),
  • Say, 1,500 system matches (vs 6,000 system matches)

A big difference was the original budget; £250m for ContactPoint, £85m for IER.  In other words, each IER LA will have about about one eighth of the budget (£200k vs £1.6m) for a project of greater dimensions and equally complex security issues.  IER has a timeframe of about 3 years.  ContactPoint consumed about 7 years – including a long hiccough for Security by Afterthought. As our American friends say, “Does it compute?”

My answer is – No. If you use the same architecture and development strategy.  Like a submarine, it will head for the rocks, and those on the bridge will panic – but not those who benefit from failed projects.

The answer is – Yes.  If you find a strategy that results in an order of magnitude improvement in the effectiveness of ICT.  I believe it may be achievable. Answers on one side of A4 should be sent to the Cabinet Office.  I am preparing mine.

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