In the last Scottish Parliamentary elections, the Scottish National Party (SNP) were the largest party by one seat, and that’s why Alex Salmond is now First Minister of Scotland, leading a minority administration.
The Open Rights Group’s electoral observation report, published today, reveals (pages 51-52) that if an alert election agent in the “Highlands and Islands” constituency had not been doing his own rough count, and challenged the results as they were about to be declared, Labour would have got one extra seat and the SNP two fewer, leading to a different party winning.
The error was that not a single vote for the SNP had actually been included in the count, due to an operator error relating to the Excel spreadsheet used to tabulate the votes! Fortunately, the error was then noticed and the results recalculated, with profuse apologies from the Returning Officer. ORG notes dryly:
ORG is surprised that the Excel software package was permitted to be used to perform such a crucial function in processing the election results. Four years ago the use of office productivity software such as Word and Excel in 2003 English pilots was criticised by the Electoral Commission. Such software does not provide any audit trail or sufficient checks on calculations performed and hence is not appropriate for use in election counts.
That’d be the understatement of the year…