Monday, 27 June 2016

How voting works from the other side of the table

On the day of the European Union Referendum (23rd of July 2016) I found myself discussing how the voting system worked from the other side of the table.

What are those Poll Clerks doing? What do all the numbers mean? What happens to them? Why do you not have pens (#PenIsBest and #UsePen being popular on the day)?

A good starting place for anyone looking into this side of things is the Handbook for polling station staff (pdf) from the Electoral Commission. This is given (as far as I know) to every member of polling station staff. It covers everything from roles and responsibilities  of polling staff to how to set up a polling station right the way through to how to transport things back to the count at the end of the day.

The main question I was asked about was what does the number on my poll card mean? Can it be used to track my vote?

The answer to this is a little complex, but simply put: Yes, it could technically be used to track your vote. In reality, it would be a huge amount of work to do so.

Most of us are used to what a poll card looks like. Below is a nicely annotated example one from Horsham Council:

The number that we're interested in in the Voter Registration number. It's made up of two parts. 
The first is a text code. This identifies which polling station you vote at. This will normally be a two or three letter code. 
The second half is normally numerical. This is the number that the poll clerks are looking for on the list that they have. This list is the Register of Electors. It holds the names of everyone eligible to vote at that polling station, and their elector number. 
Elector numbers are quite interesting. They are (as far as I know) issued once per year. If you were on the register at the start of the year, you will have a number like 1363. If you have been added during the year, you have a number like 1243/1. At the start of every new year, electors who have left the area are removed, and every elector is given a new number.
The Register of Electors also has a number of codes against the names on it. These help polling staff tell who is eligible to vote at any given election. The most common code is an 'A', for Absent Voter. These are all of the voters who have chosen to vote by post., and are therefore not eligible to be given a ballot paper in the polling station.

Once you have been found on the Register of Electors, and it's been confirmed that you are eligible to vote, your number will be read out by the poll clerk, and the second poll clerk will write it down on the Corresponding Number List.

The Corresponding Number List is preprinted with the number that is on the back of every ballot paper. This number is unique to each paper. Your voter registration number is then written against the unique number that corresponds to the number that is on the back of your ballot paper. You are then handed the ballot paper, which you go off and fill in in one of the booths, and then put into the ballot box.

So, in this way, your voter registration number is tied to your ballot paper which you have marked with your vote. Therefore, theoretically, your vote could be tied back to you, and someone could find out how you voted.

This is why what happens to the Corresponding Number List is so important. When the polling station closes, this list is sealed into an envelope, This envelope is taken back to the count, but is secured well away from the ballot papers. My understanding is that assuming that there is no challenge to the election, both ballot papers and the corresponding number list are destroyed after 21 days have followed the election. The corresponding number list envelopes should only ever be opened as part of a court challenge to an election, and only then if the court orders them opened.

To track your vote, someone would need not just the coresponding number list, but also the correct Register of Electors, and every ballot from the ballot box. Given that a low turnout might see 3/400 ballot papers in a box, it gets difficult to trace them. Even more so once counting the votes has taken place, and all of the ballot papers have ended up mixed together

The numbers on the back of the ballot papers also provide a check that the ballot box hasn't been stuffed. The ballot paper numbers issued to each polling station are known, and the first and last paper issued each hour is recorded. This allows an hourly count of ballots cast (which may be asked for by polling agents) and for the number of ballots in the box to be checked at the start of the count process.

The marked Register of Electors, which shows who has voted, is sold by councils to a limited number of people proscribed by law.

Why do we not have pens in the polling booths? Well, pencils are easy to use, don't stop working, and don't smudge. If you want to bring a pen along and use it, great. For all the conspiracy theories around poll boxes being opened, I'm really not sure at what point they think that anyone has time to  get a box out of the back of their cars,open even one of the boxes, rub out a load of votes and enter a new vote, then reseal the box and bring it back to the count without it being noticed.

This has all ended up being written a little late at night, so if there's anything else you'd like to know, please do ask in the comments below, and I'll do my best to answer.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Email from re: West Yorkshire Police Log 721 of 09/06/15

Hello MrDrem

I am just letting you know as discussed earlier, in respect of the youtube footage you reported to us.

I have spoken to the company and they have viewed the footage, stating that on the footage the driver of the lorry cannot be overtaking any cyclist on Canal Road during the journey he took, he states that the cyclist was seen to come into view on the nearside bottom of the camera and then can be seen cycling away into traffic and onwards on Canal Road. He then said that the cyclist rang the company to tell them about the incident and apologises stating the incident was his fault.

They have spoken to the driver of the lorry and I have submitted an intelligence report about the incident and the footage. This is the action we have decided to take as we cannot prove that the lorry driver was at fault at this stage. However, this has all been recorded on the report I have submitted and the company are aware of this action. If the footage needs to be viewed further the roads policing unit will follow this up.  If we do manage to trace the cyclist we will speak to him and if any other issues are highlighted we will follow this up.

If you need anything at all please do not hesitate to ring 101 quoting the log number.

Thankyou for your time.
Emily Ogden
PC 3800 

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Mapping Rediscover Mitcham 2

Mitcham Town Center is about to undergo a huge redevelopment, which has been rather controversial.

Given that the second survey had been open to anyone from anywhere, I wondered where the responses had come from.  I was also aware of a number of issues with streets not getting the second consultation delivered within the timescales that where promised, and wondered if the response data would show up any other areas where a lack of responses might show that there where issues with deliveries.

I therefore put in a Freedom of Information request via What Do They Know, which can be found here.  I've taken the postcodes, and converted them to latitudes and longitudes using this website.

I then input the data into Google's Spreadsheet mapper, fiddled with it a little, and created this map showing where responses came from. I'm not sure it answers my original question, but it's still quite an interesting exercise, all using free tools that are floating around the web.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Dunwich Dynamo 2013

This was my second DD, this time with my father-in-law and brother-in-law.

Not a bad ride all in all, we left about 8:30, and got to the beach at about 8:30.

I had a nice chat to a couple of people in the queue to pick up coach tickets.  Doctor Cake modelling the rather swish LFGSS ladies jersey (which looks stunning).

Chatted to a few people on the road, had a nice chat with Chung, said hi to JAH Tim. Plenty of LFGSS sharkpits and caps on the road, and got DaS'd a couple of times, to which I think I gave an appropriate response.

Crashed at one point, when someone overtook me, and cut back in (I'm 99% certain they left me loads of room) and I, being a bit dozy, flicked myself left into a gutter created by the road camber and curb, filled with dust, cut speed, sensed that it was going to end badly, unclipped, and tried to go up a dropped curb, and flicked myself over the bars.  Reportedly I did a fantastic tumble, ending up sitting up, with grazes on my left elbow, and both knees, a hole in my new shorts and my lights in bits.  Found all of the rear one, which went back together fine, but the front had to be sticky plastered back together.

Following that it all turned into a bit of a haze.  I recall the food stop well enough, no issues finding it this year, but we got there after most of the snacky bits had gone, so grabbed a coffee, ate some sausage rolls, filled water (Said hi to Skydancer) and headed back out.  Most of the ride was me getting ahead of the other two, waiting for them, then disappearing off again.

I paused at the bottom of the big hill, waiting to gather people so that I could shoot down to the bike shop to get new bar ends (since mine had come out in the crash) and missed my father-in-law, but found my brother-in-law, who thought his dad was behind him.  He waited whilst I shot off and got the bike fixed up, When I got back to him, he'd discovered that we were about 10 miles behind.  A lovely bit of faster paced riding got us caught up at the first of the breakfast tents that where popping up, but we pushed through past the sausage stop to the Yurt with the bacon and drinks.  We grabbed a sandwich, peered at the Yurt, decided not to risk going into it (we weren't sure we'd be able to carry on if we did), filled our water bottles and headed out again.

The last few miles felt like they went on forever. The distances seemed much greater than I recalled from last year, but the final descent was lovely, helped I suspect by the fact that we managed to get ahead of a coach that was busy getting stuck trying to get past cars that where leaving, meaning that there wasn't much in the way of moving things other than bikes and people.

We locked the bikes up on the beach (near to tricitybendix and companion in their sleeping bags) before trundling back to the Cafe, where we managed to get an inside seat, and devour breakfast, before getting slightly changed, and joining the coach queue.  Our bikes went on the 11:00 lorry, but we managed to get onto the 10:30 coach, deciding that sitting in London in the sun was preferable to sitting on the beach in the wet.

Riding home along CS7 on a Sunday was by far the worst bit of the ride.  Most of it becomes a car park out of peak hours, so was only any use to us for directions. I'm glad that we chose to get get the train across London on the way out, and sad that it was suspended on our way back.

Despite swearing off of doing it for the first couple of days afterwards, I've already decided that I'll be back again next year.  I might try and persuade the family to camp somewhere near the end of the ride, so that we can just tootle along after we've had out beach breakfasts and crash, rather than getting the coach back. 

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Product Reviews

I'm currently waiting for the new SimCity game to be released in the UK, whilst I do so, I've been reading a number of forums for the game, and watching the first reviews rolling in from the States and other places that the game has launched.

As with many other games that have have gone down the have-to-be-online-to-play route (mostly MMOs, but notably Diablo 3 too) there have been issues with the servers at launch. Despite Maxis and EA running beta tests to try and ensure that there were no problems, inevitably there were.

This has lead to, in the age of instant feedback, to an interesting effect. The reviews for these games have hugely suffered.

Taking Diablo 3, it has an rating of 2.7 stars from 476 reviews (100 @ 5*, 75 @ 4*, 55 @ 3*, 64 @ 2* and 164 @ 1*). Looking at the numbers here, the number of 1* reviews seems hugely out of proportion to the others. Its Metacritic scores are also interesting. Pro critics scored the game at 88/100, but the public scores only give it 3.8/10 (from 7943 ratings).

Looking at SimCity, which has only been out for 3 days, the reviews are strikingly similar. currently has an average rating of 1.4 stars from 278 reviews (9 @ 5*, 10 @ 4*, 7 @ 3*, 18 @ 2* and 234 @ 1*). Once again the number of 1* reviews seems well out of proportion. Its Metacritic scores are similar to those from Diablo 3 - pro critics giving the game 90/100, but the public score being 2.6/10 (from 850 ratings).

Why is this happening? I'm fairly sure that in both of these cases, the reviewers are punishing the company involved for taking a game that could previously be played without an internet connection, and forcing online play on people.  In addition to this, both games have had initial problems with server load that have prevented first day players from playing the game, adding to the discontent of the previous fans of the series, who have been used to being able to play offline. Another factor in the discontent may be that both games are continuations or reboots of an old series that's not been touched for some time (11 years for Diablo II, and 9.5 years for SimCity).

Whilst this skewing of review scores isn't great for the games production company, its also not helpful for Amazon, and to a lesser extent Metacritic. They want reviews that reflect the gameplay experience overall, not just the first week or so where the servers where under heavy load, and the game wasn't as it should be.

So, what's the answer to this issue? From Amazon's point of view, the labeling of users that they know have bought the game from them is helpful, but at the moment, you can't get a rating made up of just confirmed purchasers. This also can't be a solution for Metacritic, who don't have the sales details that Amazon do. The only solution that I can come up with for both sires is not to take reviews for a game for the first week or two. Those who are cross about the games forced online play and/or other issues, then have a chance to calm down about any issues that might have spoilt the launch, and thus will give a better set of reviews. Maybe Amazon could have an option so that you can restrict the reviews to only those who have bought the game via Amazon.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Keeping your bike safe at night.

This morning I spotted this Twitter post from The Met Police in Merton:

Last night we mentioned bikes stolen from sheds. Have a look at the security that was protecting them ! #getabetterlock


I've had my bike shed broken into twice, with them going in two different ways.  I've toughened up my security each time, and thought that it might be useful if I shared my experiences.

When I first got the shed, I was concious that as it would have my bikes in it, it would be a target.  I looked at the parts that came with it, and realised that the hinges were a huge weak point.  They looked like they would fall apart with one tap.  I therefore invested in in a pair of new hinges from Screwfix. 

These ones:

Recognising that normal screws would be far too easy to undo, I also bought some 'security' screws, these ones:

I also made sure that I had a good padlock on it, one like this:

The thieves that took my bike didn't even look at either of these things.  They identified that the weak point on my shed was the hasp.  The shed had come with an even flimsier version of one of these:

The thieves cut through the hoop that the padlock goes through, allowing them to remove the padlock (which they took) and open the shed with ease.  Bang, one bike gone.

I then decided that I should replace the hasp with something tougher.  Looking through the screwfix catalogue, one of these seemed best:

I also bought a new padlock the same as the last one.

When the thieves came back, the new hasp did it's job.  The thieves didn't even look at it.  What they did look at where the screws that held the hinges in.  Those came out in a scond.  Security through obscurity (i.e. relying on odd shaped screwheads) isn't a challange for any thief.  The tools to take the screws out are really cheap to buy from the very place that I got them from, Screwfix. 

Bang. Second bike gone.

So, I looked into what could be done to prevent this method of entry.  I discovered clutch screws.  These can be done up, but not undone.  so I got some of these:

I've not gone through all the security now on my bike shed for obvious reasons, but take a look at yours, and see which of my pitfalls you've followed, and can take care of to make your shed safer.

Quick links to those products:

Monday, 12 November 2012

Sharing videos with Roadsafe

On the 14/07/2011, I posted a video on youtube of the driver of a black BMW, registration number YE54 0KV (YE540KV) overtaking me, at a point that was far too close to a central road island, and being forced to go the wrong side of it.  At the same time, I reported him via the Met's roadsafe website.

The video is available here:

You'll note that in my intro to the video, I labelled the driver a Numpty.  This is because I think it's quite clear that he is one.  The officer at the met who reviewed my video got back to me to let me know that they were unable to take any action against the driver as "Unfortunately, due to the mildly insulting comments you have added to the title and content of the video, I am unable to take any further action with regards to this matter. The Metropolitan Police cannot be seen to be endorsing such comments in any way.".  They also warned me that I "leave yourself open to being sued by the driver through the civil courts for slander / defamation by posting such comments about him in the public domain."

I've looked up the definition of "numpty" in the OED, it gives us two possibilities:
  • Noun - A stupid or foolish person; an idiot.
  • Adjective - Esp. of a person: stupid, foolish, idiotic.
I think that the driving in the video is all three, stupid, foolish and idiotic, and stand by my use of the word as such, but I'll let you decide if I'm right or not.

I did however, want to ensure that any further footage I sent to them would be usable, so I asked for some guidance I could share.  I've held onto this myself for far too long, so here it is:

"Thanks for your interest, I have compiled a short list of points that would help both the RoadSafe unit and yourselves :-
First of all, don't engage with the driver / rider who's caused you the problem. It's far better just to record the video and post it. There is always the chance of a violent reaction and we would rather you avoided this where possible. If you should get into an argument with someone, remember that everything you say is being recorded by your camera. We have had cyclists submit videos where their language is unacceptable and they themselves have received a warning from us. 
Try to say the registration number for the camera audio to record. This helps you where the camera hasn't recorded a good enough image to read the plate later.
If you submit a video to us, it would be helpful if you could hold on to the original footage until you hear from us. If you get our standard reply, then you can delete the footage (or whatever you want to do with it). However, it may be that we decide to prosecute the driver and will require the original, unedited footage. You will be asked if you are willing to attend court before we proceed.
When posting the video to YouTube, Vimeo etc. Please don't post insulting comments about the driver. Try to keep it neutral, e.g." This driver overtook me on a blind bend, leaving two inches of space and scared the life out of me," not "this ***** idiot, ****ing nearly killed me, the ****" (I'll leave you to guess the blanks). Keeping it neutral presents you in a better light, gives nothing for a possible defence solicitor to work on and lastly, doesn't leave you open to a libel suit.
Please tag the video with the registration number, without spaces, e.g. AB12CDE. We can't click the links you provide as we have to move to a standalone computer - but please add the full link in case the registration is wrong.
If you post the video publicly, we will add the link to any letter we send out to the drivers. Therefore, you may wish to post the video in such a way that it isn't available to anyone and everyone. YouTube allows this and Vimeo can password protect a video. Or you could use your own web space if you have it. If you do this, please mention this on the RoadSafe submission and we won't include the link.
You will see lots of drivers committing lots of offences every day. We would really like to concentrate on the worst - those that draw your attention or cause you a problem and you really feel need some advice re their driving. The video you submitted is a superb example of this.
I hope this all helps,
PC Stuart Carey"
I'd like to thank PC Carey for this advice, and am just sorry I too so long to share it with people.  I hope you too find it useful!