Belfast Telegraph

Why dragging our polling system into the modern age would get my vote

By Lindy McDowell

Election 2015 - the excitement mounts. Or, if we are being absolutely honest, doesn't actually mount to all that much at all. Of course, if you're a candidate, a long-suffering member of a candidate's family, their election agent, a pollster, Jon Snow or somebody who supplies the sandwiches for workers at the election count it's probably heady enough stuff.

For the rest of us though, not so much. You go along to your neighbourhood polling station which is most likely a building you are never next to nor near at any other time between elections. You go either early morning (when you're frazzled), lunchtime (when you're hungry), teatime (when you're ravenous) or late evening (when you're knackered).

Having finally located the polling station, you next need to locate a parking space. Not always that easy. The various party election workers waiting to ambush you with last-minute leafleting will have bagged all the space not on double yellow lines.

You did remember to bring the correct identification, didn't you? Never mind. It's only a quick hike back home to get it. Having queued for your voting slip (and blushed as the relevant official has called out your embarrassing middle name) you then take this paper to the "discreet" voting booth constructed from disturbingly unstable plywood. Don't lean too heavily.

There is a pencil provided. And depending on ready supply of the same or parsimony of the local electoral officer, this pencil may well be anchored to the booth by a short bit of string. Don't tug too hard. You may need to go at it at an angle in order to mark your X. You now fold your paper and head for the box where it is finally posted. Job done.

Although it does occur you could have cast your vote more comfortably at home, in a mere fraction of the time, online. Without missing Emmerdale.

Given the opportunity for fraud, however, internet voting continues to be considered so unsafe that we are still not trusted to be let loose in the virtual booth. Even electronic systems within polling stations have had a bad press - discredited on account of their hanging chads and suchlike.

Still. It's 2015. We can land a probe on Mars, Skype our granny in Australia, photoshop ourselves to look presentable and organise a taxi or a pizza or a date on a phone app. But our electoral process is still stuck in the black and white era of Mrs Miniver.

Online voting is used in Estonia. The concern elsewhere seems to be that the system is open to abuse. There is a fear of coercion or bribery of voters. Or perhaps they're just worried that you might plump for your candidate when under the influence. A bit like buying that mad shirt you have no need of. Or tweeting inappropriate tweets.

The Estonians negate all this by allowing you to vote as many times as you like - with only the last vote counting.

Another plus - not only would the online system be more attractive and accessible to voters (no parking, no pencil) it would also cut out the laborious vote count.

We did not exactly cover ourselves in glory on this count during the last count. You may recall the process dragged on and on and on, as some papers which had been soaked during transportation infamously had to be dried out with a hairdryer. A blow-dry for democracy.

A table at another count collapsed, some counting staff didn't show up and in one area a box of votes disappeared only to turn up later.

Del Boy doesn't do elections but if he did ...

Compared to this lot how much more shambolic could online voting be?

We must not forget, however, that perhaps the greatest concern about an online alternative system is the worry about Outside Interference. Many nations are troubled by the thought that rogue states like, say, North Korea which are known to have considerable hacking expertise, might use this to change the course of history as we know it.

Should that overly concern us here in Northern Ireland though? I doubt if Kim Jung Un is all that bothered by the possible outcome in Strangford...

Winning Brand or overgrown child?

How thrilling for comedian Russell Brand that he has graduated from stand-up to major political power broker. Thanks to his impressive following on The Trews, old Russ now sees himself as a bit of a kingmaker. So does he feel the Hand of History upon him — to use that phrase coined by another political comedian?

The judgement of an historian has been passed upon him anyway. According to the brilliant David Starkey, he is; “an adept floater of tides and rider of passions. But despite the chest hair and sexual adventures, he is essentially a child”. Bit of a crushing putdown there.

But as Russ thrives on any and all attention, still unlikely to damage the Brand.

Food for thought over Kiwi honey

Strange news from the health food front. If you’re a fan of highly priced Manuka honey you should be aware that there is now three times as much of the stuff on sale as has been produced by authentic suppliers in New Zealand.

Do the sums. There is a good chance you may be paying through the nose for what is a fake version.

Sadly there’s no easy way to tell. Honey tastes like honey. Just as beef tastes like lamb in your lamb kebab. And horse meat tastes like beef in your steak pie. Sad but true.

Don’t believe everything you read, wise people say. Don’t believe everything you eat, either.

Belfast Telegraph


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