STV could bring electronic counting machines to B.C. politics

One of the more disturbing books I've read in recent years was called Was the 2004 presidential election stolen?, which analyzed huge  discrepancies between exit polls and the final results that gave George W. Bush a second term in the White House.

Written by statistical expert Steven F. Freeman and journalist Joel Bleifuss, the book raised serious questions about the veracity of Bush's victory in 2004.

Electronic voting machines were widely used in that election. Approximately 29 percent of voters used the touch-screen variety,  which leaves  no paper trail.

The City of Vancouver uses electronic voting machines in its municipal elections. It also gives voters  paper ballots, which leaves a paper trail if anyone ever wants to challenge the results.

I've always preferred the old-fashioned method used in provincial elections: paper ballots, hand counts in public overseen by scrutineers for the parties, and no electronic voting machines doing the tabulations.

In a recent interview with the Georgia Straight, chief electoral officer Harry Neufeld said he could not make a business case for using electronic  counting machines under the current system of first-past-the-post.

"It's just too expensive compared to a hand count of these very simple paper ballots, which at a maximum will have 12 candidates on them—and in most cases will be much less than that," Neufeld said.

However, he added, the business case for electronic counting machines would be strengthened if B.C. adopts the single transferable vote in a May 12 referendum.

This would reduce the number of constituencies to 20, with many more candidates running in each multimember district. Greater Victoria would get seven MLAs. There would be two districts of six and five MLAs in Vancouver.

"I think the business case would be very good for counting machines in the voting place," Neufeld said. "It's also a question of, 'Would there be a business case for having some kind of technology for choosing your candidates, and then printing out?' "

He noted that the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform, which recommended STV in 2004, insisted on a paper ballot, so there would likely  still be a paper trail, similar to Vancouver, even if the legislature voted to allow electronic  counting machines.

Every voting district is divided into voting areas. Neufeld said there are 10,000 voting areas in the province in the May 12 election. Each area has one ballot box with two election officials responsible for each ballot cast and counted.




May 6, 2009 at 9:24am

At last someone has mentioned this. I have been waiting.

I will not be voting for STV because the complexities of the counting make computerized voting essential, unless one is prepared to wait three or four days or more for a traditional manual count to proceed.

But that's the problem. Given the popular suspicions around computerized voting, to say nothing of the expense of initial purchase, I expect it will be difficult to gain public accpeptance for computer purchases, and as the article notes, the avowed STV supporters specifically opposed that option.

If BC does go into an STV style general election in May of 2013 with a manual count I am sure there will be plenty of chaos in the count, lots of controversy and court cases, protracted delays of perhaps months in determining some outcomes with certainty, and a resulting widespread public revulsion, possibly leading to a grass roots demand for an immediate reinstatement of FPTP!

I wish every STV supporter would just make an honest attempt to imagine a count lasting several days, imagine the frustration and fatigue factor for Elections BC officials and candidate representatives in close seats, trying to do all the arithmetic manually, sometimes making errors that necessitate going back to an earlier stage and starting all over again, missing additional days from work and family, and so on.

So, I will not be voting for STV because I am sure that if it passes, the first time it's used and people turn on their TV screens for election night, only to be told they're going to have to stay there for three or four days, they'll be outraged and will be demanding to know who sold them this idea.
Rod Smelser

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Wilf Day

May 6, 2009 at 7:56pm

"the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform, which recommended STV in 2004, insisted on a paper ballot, so there would likely still be a paper trail, similar to Vancouver . . .The City of Vancouver uses electronic voting machines in its municipal elections. It also gives voters paper ballots, which leaves a paper trail if anyone ever wants to challenge the results."

How can anyone object to that?
Wilf Day

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May 6, 2009 at 10:17pm

This article is yet again more baseless anti-STV fear-mongering by Charlie Smith. Conflating using a computer to help tally the votes with the black box touchscreen voting methods used in many jurisdictions in the USA is propoganda.

Guess what Charlie, both Elections Canada and Elections BC use computers to help calculate the votes and deliver them in a timely fashion. No one is counting up millions of votes in BC by hand and getting the count done inside a few hours.

Nobody is talking about using anything like the US-style paperless touchscreen systems for calculating the vote under STV. With STV you will use paper ballots. Using a computer to calculate the distribution of preferences can be done, but it is not required. They have been doing it by hand using STV in Ireland for decades.

Most importantly, despite Charlie Smith's attempt at a smear, with STV there will certainly be a paper trail. Now if Charlie Smith is somehow hinting that Elections BC is a corrupt or partisan body, like some of the GOP run state election commissions south of the border that is another matter. I'm not worried about Elections BC, they have proven they are fair and non-partisan.

It's disgusting that the Georgia Straight allows this kind of political smearing to be done under their banner, without at the very least some counter-arguments or balance. I thought that the Georgia Straight considered itself better than the corporate media.

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May 6, 2009 at 10:34pm

A manual count would probably take a day like they do in Ireland. There they vote on a Friday, collect the votes, and the votes are counted on a Saturday.

Charlie, the bigger problem is with our current system and redistricting. In the states, that is 100 times more of a problem than anything associated with Diebold machines of hanging chads. (Redistricting doesn't affect senatorial or presidential elections, but it makes a huge difference in state and congressional areas)

Read this:

If you are worries at all about the sanctity of democracy, you should be doing everything you can to remove SMP voting and replace it with any other system! Gracey's finger could never happen under STV.

A slight shift in boundaries under first past the post can dramatically effects the results. One more reason why SMP/plurality should be banned everywhere. That is the same reason we should be very reluctant to put wards in Vancouver. Do you draw a line down arbutus or granville. A small shift in boundaries can cause two or three seats to change from one party to another.

Even with counting machines, STV results can be manually recounted to verify the results.

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Mrs K

May 7, 2009 at 10:58pm

I am voting for STV. I previously lived in a country where it was the system. It's a much better and fairer system and your vote actually counts. Listen up peeps, get sense and vote for STV. Don't mind these barking mad commentators putting the fear of God up you. The current system is senseless in comparison.

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