This year’s AEA National Conference focused on Bridging the Gap “between where we are and where we need to be” for election administration in the UK.

The national conference provides a unique opportunity to engage in open discussions and dialogues around the future of administration in areas such as count procedures, communication in the digital age, improvements to the registration system, and election technology. The event brought together key election stakeholders including administrators from many of the 418 UK local authorities, Returning Officers, the Commission, Central Government, and suppliers from the industry.

Sonya Anderson, part of the Smartmatic representatives at the event, shared some of the event’s highlights:

  1. Technology played a relevant role in the Conference. “administrators are convinced that technology can provide significant benefits to UK elections. Many of the election professionals, charged with administering large and complex UK elections, are extremely interested in how e-voting technologies could be used for local elections to increase the speed, efficiency, accuracy and accessibility of voting and counting.” The general feeling is that local government elections would be the ideal place to pilot new technologies, giving Returning Officers the opportunity to realise the benefits that technology can bring, whilst also providing vital lessons for regional and national elections.
  2. The governments of Wales and Scotland presented significant and optimistic moves towards more inclusive 21st century elections in the UK. “The Scotland and Wales Acts have seen election law and regulation powers devolved to the respective regional governments, for local and regional parliamentary elections. Both Scotland and Wales have undertaken public consultations on reform, with a particular focus on participation and accessibility. Their evaluation of the role that technology may play in future elections has also been noteworthy.” The Cabinet Secretary of the Welsh Assembly announced his intent to bring about significant changes for welsh citizens including voting for 16 and 17-year-olds, allowing local authorities to use alternative voting methods such as proportional voting, and piloting modernisation “The idea that the devolved governments will allow electronic voting in polling stations, voting at any polling place, online voting, early voting and a national  register, could have a significant impact on how citizens in these regions interact and engage in the democratic process, increasing accessibility, transparency and verifiability.”AEA elections
  3. The UK election system is under enormous pressure. It is time to acknowledge it and act upon it. “Even though UK elections are generally considered to be delivered well, and trust levels by voters are high, more and more key stakeholders are recognising that the system is starting to show significant signs of strain. The Chair of the Commission warned about the potential for the “Perfect Storm” in UK elections, where the current processes would simply be unable to deliver. Over-reliance on manual processes, significant loss of skills (experienced administrators are leaving the profession and not being replaced), reducing resources, inflexible legislation, and an increasing number of  events with different voting systems are just some of the issues effecting the current system.”
  4. The event was a perfect opportunity to celebrate equality and #Vote100. “2018 marks the important event of the extension of voting rights to some, if not all women in the UK. For all stakeholders, the occasion was seen as something to be extremely proud of. However, conference attendees were clearly reflecting on the fact that we still have a long way to go to ensure that voting rights are extended to all voters, irrespective of age, sex, ethnicity, location and ability.”
  5. It was evident that Smartmatic brings the greatest breadth of portfolio and knowledge of election technology to the UK Market. “Many administrators got to see, up close and hands-on, how our technology works – how simple, accessible, fast and accurate it can make the process. It made us proud to be the only supplier to be showing such a wide and comprehensive range of proven, deployed election technologies. We demonstrated solution for e-voting, online voting, electronic poll books, accessibility solutions and online training.”

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Our top five takeaways from the AEA 2018 National Conference