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Gibraltar votes today in hotly-contested general election

Civil servants who will be involved in the election count tonight are pictured earlier this week familiarising themselves with new IT equipment that will speed up the process and allow for real-time results. Photo by Johnny Bugeja

Gibraltar heads to the ballot boxes today after weeks of intense campaigning in what could be a knife-edge vote to elect a new government.

Successive polls over the past week showed the narrowest of margins between the two main political blocs, the GSLP/Liberals and the GSD, indicating the hotly contested vote could go either way.

The polls also suggested a large number of voters could split their votes despite both parties calling for the block vote.

That pointed to the possibility of a nine/eight split in the 17-seat Parliament as opposed to the traditional 10 government MPs and seven in opposition.

In either camp, the electorate has both familiar and new faces to choose from.

The GSLP/Liberal slate includes Fabian Picardo, Dr Joseph Garcia, Sir Joe Bossano, Dr John Cortes, and Vijay Daryanani – all of whom served in the last government – as well as newcomers Gemma Arias-Vasquez, Nigel Feetham, Christian Santos, Leslie Bruzon and Pat Orfila.

On the GSD side are Keith Azopardi, Damon Bossino, Roy Clinton and Edwin Reyes – all of whom served as Opposition MPs in the last Parliament – alongside newcomers Craig Sacarello, Atrish Sanchez, Joelle Ladislaus, Professor Daniella Tilbury, Giovanni Origo and Youssef El Hana.

Independent Social Democrat Robert Vasquez, a barrister and political commentator who is standing alone on a platform of democratic reform, is the additional choice on the ballot paper.

There are 25,198 eligible voters registered on the electoral roll for today’s general election, a record number up from 24,189 in the 2019 election.

A total of 15 polling stations across different districts around the Rock will open at 9am and close at 10pm, after which the ballot boxes will be transferred to the John Mackintosh Hall where the count will take place.

“It’s important that people vote early to avoid bottlenecks at peak times,” said Simon Galliano, the Returning Officer.

The count tonight will be different to past elections and will use technology to speed up the process and offer greater transparency, including enabling voters to follow the results in real time via the website.

Counting will start at around midnight and the new bespoke computer software developed by the Gibraltar Government’s Information Technology and Logistics Department means the result could be confirmed by 4am or thereabouts. Normally, election results are announced an hour or two later.

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.

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.

Mr Galliano praised the “outstanding dedication” of his staff and the civil servants tasked with overseeing and running the vote and the count tonight.

“Everything is ready to go,” he said.

“I’m very, very confident it will all go smoothly and I can only praise the team supporting me as Returning Officer.”

“Without their support, the Returning Officer is no one.”

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