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emil received May 1 2005

THE POSTAL BALLOT NUMBERING PROBLEM

I could not believe the story last week where a council managed to print different numbers (meant to be the same) on the ballot papers and the envelopes. So that ALL postal ballots in that constituency would be counted as INVALID.

What I could not believe was the solution - to send everyone of the 16000+ a new set of ballot papers - even though, of course, those who had already left on holiday and sent back their papers would thus be disenfranchised!

After all, in whatever way the envelope and the paper WERE joined together - it was scarcely random - there HAD to be some sort of (very simple) numeric relationship between envelope and ballot - they were scarcely stuffed randomly by hand. Some sort of automatic process was certainly used.

Hence, by checking on three or four papers ( in different parts of the numeric list - AND the envelopes do contain the voters name details so you know how to get a maximum of half a dozen samples from across the whole list)! From this evidence it is hardly rocket science to determine the relationship between the numbers on the envelopes and the corresponding numbers on the ballots and to produce a complete list - together with the name and address list. This list could be used for checking the ballot papers against the declaration - a very small trifle slower than checking the ballot paper against the number on the declaration BUT NOT MUCH and an extremely simple and repetitive task.

This is the only solution that ensures that EVERYONE who required a postal vote IN THAT CONSTITUENCY - was enfranchised. I wonder at whoever was advising them - was this even considered? As we computer nerds and mathematicians say - the calculations are trivial (mathematical word!) and a simple spreadsheet run from the original data would have taken hours to produce (and CHECK against those half-dozen ballots). Extra cost minimal - probably one extra person on the 'checking of ballots' side.

Why, why, why did they do it the difficult (and expensive and likely to go wrong and be challenged) way - surely I am only one among many who can see the obviousness of the simple solution? Or do they not teach arithmetic and mathematics (and economics) any more? Are there no advisers out there?

....I would have written this earlier - just in case more than one council turns out to have made this sort of mistake - as is is almost inevitable in this complex world where proof reading appears to be a lost art.

V