[WATCH] PN wants manual scanning of votes to precede electronic counting

The Nationalist Party says a manual check of ballots will help reduce the problems associated with the ability of the electronic system to weed out dubious votes • PN against parties retaining electronic data for three months

The PN is proposing that votes be checked manually for irregular marks before they are scanned
The PN is proposing that votes be checked manually for irregular marks before they are scanned

Votes should be checked manually for irregular marks before they are scanned electronically as an additional safeguard to the new vote counting system, the Nationalist Party is proposing. 

The safeguard forms part of a raft of proposed amendments to the legal changes the government has put forward on electronic counting during elections.

PN secretary general Clyde Puli said on Tuesday, test runs on the new electronic counting system carried out last month, showed that at least 5% of dubious votes fed into the machines were not captured.

“We are proposing a hybrid system that includes a manual check of votes before the electronic scanning starts so that any invalid votes are flagged immediately and a decision is taken by the party representatives and the Electoral Commission on what to do with the vote,” Puli said.

Angelito Sciberras from the PN’s electoral office said that a test run of 628 invalid votes showed that 30 ballots – 5% of the total – were deemed to be valid by the electronic system despite them clearly being invalid.

Puli said the manual checks will be carried out throughout the night between Saturday and Sunday when ballot boxes are opened at the counting hall.

He added that the party was not expecting the proposed manual step to lengthen the process. He insisted that the electronic scanning of votes would probably still be able to start at 7am as was being prospected by the Electoral Commission.

“Our intention is to ensure that the counting process delivers the result intended by voters, while making sure that corrupt practices are weeded out,” he said, adding this would give people peace of mind.

The PN is also proposing amendments to the draft law, making it illegal for the parties to retain copies of scanned ballot sheets for a period of three months.

The draft law put forward by the government sought to overcome the difficulties by allowing parties access to the scans for a period of three months after the counting ends.

PN MP Karol Aquilina said the law should allow the political parties access to the data and scans up to four hours that the result is known and no information should leave the counting hall.

“We are also proposing substantially harsher fines and prison term for anyone who takes out any scans or data from the counting hall,” Aquilina said.

The proposals have been forwarded to the government for consideration.

“We realise that May is around the corner and we are willing to cooperate with the government to get this law discussed and approved in Parliament at the earliest if what we are proposing is accepted,” Puli said.

Malta will for the first time introduce electronic vote counting in the European Parliament and local council elections next May but doubts have been raised about the system after trial runs flagged some defects.

Party agents who were present for these trial runs and who spoke to MaltaToday said that in some instances a number one preference that crossed two boxes – which in normal circumstances would be considered a dubious vote – was awarded by the computer to the candidate above and a seven awarded to the candidate below.

Other marks such as full stops or wiggly numbers, which are normally flagged as dubious and evaluated by party representatives were not picked up by the system.

Refining the algorithm would have flagged almost all votes as dubious.

To overcome these problems, the PN is now proposing a manual check prior to the start of the scanning process.