Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Electronic vote would slay the party dragons

Jim Nicholson
Jim Nicholson

Elections here are often predictable – change generally comes slowly, rather than in a sudden swing – but, even so, there was an uncanny accuracy in LucidTalk's predictions for the recent Euro poll.

As predicted, Jim Nicholson had to slug it out until the eighth count with Alex Attwood of the SDLP before he was finally elected on Jim Allister's transfers.

It was based on past voting, opinion polls, the most recent of which occurred last September, and interviews with a smaller panel of people.

It didn't pick up the full TUV surge and predicted the SDLP would perform marginally better, but the figures were all within the +/- 4% margin of error usual in full opinion polls.

It would be good to have even more information on the innards of the voting system to analyse. That could be provided if we moved to a system of electronically counting votes as several parties are now proposing.

That would, in principle, enable us to see where party support was coming from from the full pattern of transfers. We could, for instance, see where Jim Nicholson's second preferences would have ended up, or where community candidates in Londonderry got their support.

Parties would see where there were openings and where they were falling short. At present, the big party machines, the DUP and Sinn Fein, have some, but not all, of this information. That is because they have the personnel to take tallies at most counts, noting their support from various boxes.

That gives a partial approximation. If the legislation to introduce electronic counting was properly drafted and the software tweaked, the many blank pieces in the existing picture would be filled in. They are the equivalent of the areas that used to be marked "Here Be Dragons" in old maps.

We don't currently know what is going on, but with computer counting, the full picture of Northern Ireland and its voting preferences could be spliced and diced into graphs and tables. It would be second only to the census in importance.

The information could also be democratised, allowing smaller parties and people who were thinking of entering politics the same insight as the established players. Historians would also pore over it.

And, yes, it would mean that we wouldn't have to wait two days to see the same three candidates elected to Europe as last time – in the precise order that LucidTalk had predicted.

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