Bespoke software will speed up election count and deliver real-time results
New bespoke computer software developed by the Gibraltar Government’s Information Technology and Logistics Department [ITLD] will speed up the count on election night and enable voters to follow results in real time.
Each counting room will have three computers manned by civil servants - a counting officer and two counting clerks - who will enter the data on each ballot on the system, recording votes for each candidate electronically.
As each ballot result is read out by the counting officer, the same data is entered on two computers by the clerks, with the system able to detect any discrepancy between the results allowing for revalidation where necessary.
The results for each counting room will be displayed on large screens in the room, enabling people at the count to follow progress.
“The new system introduces a level of transparency which was vacant in the old system, in that the counting officer now instructs the counting clerks on every decision that he makes on the ballot paper,” said Simon Galliano, the Returning Officer.
Each suite of three computers is interlinked, but there is no connection to the internet or any external network, cutting out the risk of any cyber interference. The computers themselves will be encased to prevent any tampering and they are air-gapped, including for Bluetooth connections.
Through the night, counting officers will routinely scan a QR code linked to each three-PC network, recording the results from that suite on a real-time basis and passing that information to a central team who will update the progress on the Gibraltar Parliament website.
The electronic counting system will be used in each of the 30 counting rooms and additional power infrastructure has been installed in the John Mackintosh Hall, including dual cabling and UPS systems in each room to provide a fallback in the event of a power cut.
Counting agents will provide additional checks and balances on how counting officers and clerks are carrying out their work.
The system automates “bottlenecks” identified by experienced civil servants who have overseen counts in multiple elections using the manual system.
“The PCs that operate the system are enclosed in a secure case that will be sealed on the day of the election,” said Tyrone Mañasco, head of ITLD.
“The system an innovative system. It's very efficient and does away with bottlenecks that the manual system has.”
On the night, the aim is to start the count at midnight, with the final result expected around 4am if all goes smoothly. Normally, election results are announced an hour or two later.
In tests using the new system, election personnel logged between 180 and 240 votes an hour on each suite.
Not only will the final result be known earlier, voters will also be able to follow the development of the count through election night once 20% of the ballots have been counted.
“It would be a live stream which I think will be really exciting on the night,” said Darren Grech, the Chief Secretary.
If the election is tight and a recount is needed, a contingency plan is in place to store the ballots in the Supreme Court and carry out the recount manually on the Saturday.
“Should it be a close call at the end and should there be a need for a recount - and I have to be satisfied and the Returning Officer needs to be satisfied that there is a genuine need for a recount, because of the margins or because of whatever very valid reasons - then plan B can trigger and we can return to an old fashioned manual system,” Mr Grech said.
“Except that my people are not robots. They would need to take a very well-earned rest.”
“There will be other civil servants as well trained in that respect and we should be able to be up and running again at the beginning of Saturday with everything stored away safely in the courts and with all our angles covered, again guaranteeing integrity of processes.”
The system has been independently audited by EY, which tested it with 1000 entries and found it to be 100% accurate.
It had already previously been tested by staff from the Parliament and ITLD, who also ran 1000 test ballots through it with a similar 100% accuracy result.
“We found no errors in the system,” said Dale Cruz, a partner at EY in Gibraltar.
“The engagement effectively had to pass testing the actual operation of the system and running through its cases.”
“We also did over a thousand mock ballots, effectively, and our testing also included testing the actual code behind it.”
“So we used our IT risk team in London to get behind the code and test the code and give us clarity and certainty around that of the actual software itself.”
“We found the system to be 100% accurate.”
The leaders of the Alliance and the GSD have been shown the system and briefed on how it works.
On Monday, teams of civil servants who will conduct the count on election night will carry out a dry run in the counting rooms in John Mackintosh Hall, providing an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the new system.
Mr Grech and Mr Galliano praised the staff at ITLD, Parliament and other civil service departments who have been working to prepare the logistics behind election night.
The new system was developed in-house by ITLD and all equipment purchased for the night will be redistributed through government departments after the count on election night.