‘High percentage’ of dubious votes flagged in new electronic counting system trial

Officials from both parties said the system had detected an abnormally high number of dubious votes during a trial last Saturday

The vote counting and adjudicating rows, with screen facing the perspex displaying all valid ballot papers
The vote counting and adjudicating rows, with screen facing the perspex displaying all valid ballot papers

Officials from both major political parties have expressed a number of concerns that will need to be addressed before a new electronic vote-counting system announced last week is used in official elections.

The new system was tested at the Naxxar counting hall last Saturday ahead of a larger scale mock exercise that will take place on 1 December.

MaltaToday is informed that one of the major concerns appears to be the fact that the system flagged an abnormally high proportion of dubious votes, a considerable number of which would have passed off as regular in the manual process.

According to some agents from both political parties who witnessed the mock exercise, the number of dubious votes flagged by the system was as high as 25%.

“We had cases, for example, where the person filling in the ballot wrote a four in one candidate’s box but would have written it in a way that the number slightly crossed over into the box below it,” one party agent who spoke to MaltaToday said.

They added that the intention of such a vote would have been clear and non-controversial under the previous system. Similarly, problems were also encountered as a result of marks or folds on the ballot paper.

Louis Gatt, head of the Labour Party’s electoral office, was satisfied with the electronic system but noted the “high percentage” of votes flagged as dubious.

However, he partially attributed this to the manner by which the mock votes were filled in by a small number of people.

“A small number of people were tasked to mark ballot papers to replicate an election. However, it is tedious to mark one ballot paper after another and very probable that the handwriting started to deteriorate. They might have exaggerated in some aspects to fully test the system but it is my expectation that there will be much less dubious votes in reality,” Gatt said when contacted by MaltaToday.

But Gatt was positive about the system, which promises to deliver a quicker electoral result. He expects that all six MEPs elected next year will be known by Sunday evening, rather than having to wait until Wednesday morning.

He said the political parties had been working along with the Electoral Commission for such a system since 2015 by evaluating specifications and requirements.

“I am satisfied with the system but like any new project it has its teething problems and we expect these to be solved,” Gatt said.

On his part, Nationalist Party Secretary General Clyde Puli said that Saturday’s mocks had exposed a few “hiccups and teething problems” but was optimistic that these obstacles could be addressed.

“We are taking the old system we had and applying technology to it,” he said, adding that such a transition was bound to bring with it some challenges.

He said that the Nationalist Party had a team of people observing the process and was reporting back and relaying any concerns to the Electoral Commission.

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