Votes cast in the next elections for Mayor of London and the London Assembly could be counted manually instead of by the electronic system that has been used since the Greater London Authority (GLA) came into existence in 2000.
City Hall and borough officials believe a case can be made that counting Londoners’ votes by hand in the London elections scheduled for 2024 would be simpler and cheaper, particularly if, as is possible, they take place on the same day as a UK general election, where manual counting is traditionally used.
The impetus for considering the change has come from national government’s intention to change the voting system for Mayor from the supplementary vote system used since the post’s inception to first past the post. An amendment to the Election Bill to that effect, currently before parliament, is expected to receive royal assent in May this year.
A report to be considered by the Assembly’s oversight committee next week says “the emerging view” of a sub-group of GLA and London local authority election officers asked to consider the implications of the change to first past the post is that “a case can be made that a manual count in 2024 would now be simpler and less resource-intensive than an e-count” even though “the rationale for an e-count is that it is quicker, tried, tested and successful”.
The introduction of first past the post will deprive Londoners of the option of casting first and second preference votes for Mayor, which enables them to back both a candidate unlikely to win the election and whichever of the potential winners they like most. However, it will also do away with the mayoral vote ballot paper having two crosses on it, which has made electronic counting more efficient.
There are no government plans to change the system for electing Assembly Members, some of whom represent geographical constituencies and some of whom secure the seats through a form of proportional representation. Each of these sections of the ballot requires a single vote to be cast on a separate ballot paper.
The oversight committee paper therefore notes that in 2024 “there would be three different-coloured ballot papers to count with one vote each” and that “this gives rise to the possibility that a 2024 manual count could now be carried out in a timely manner at less overall cost than an e-count, something that has not been the case hitherto”.
Part of the background to considering changing to a manual count is that, as the paper puts it, “the cost of the e-count has escalated in recent years due to increased testing, resilience and cybersecurity measures”.
Should manual counting for 2024 be adopted, the sub-group believes it should take place either at borough or Assembly constituency locations rather than at the three large counting centres of Alexandra Palace, Olympia and the ExCel Centre, which have to be booked for the purpose “years in advance”. The possibility of reverting to an e-count for subsequent elections would remain.
The Greater London Returning Officer, who is charge of the running of Mayor and Assembly elections, must make a decision by the end of March.
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