Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Online primaries - how not to do them

The primary election is a rare beast is this country. Even most of the selections the Conservatives brand as "open primaries" are actually closer to US style caucuses with a greater level of involvement required and thus smaller turnouts. The reason for this is obvious - it's near impossible to devise a mechanism whereby all eligible voters are able to choose a candidate for a party without incurring huge costs (the Conservatives did hold some postal ballots and send papers to all voters in a few constituencies but at great cost) or having no security controls to prevent the process from being fraudulently hijacked by the ineligible and/or other parties. Realistically a primary would require state support to work. But every so often a party throws such common sense to the wind.

UKIP are currently engaged in the process of selecting who should be their candidate for Mayor of London. I'll admit upfront that I don't find the actual contest itself to be the most exciting thing going. But one of the ways they're allocating votes is so ridiculously fraud prone that I'm amazed that it wasn't laughed out at first suggestion.

For UKIP have set up a website, UKIP's Mayor for London: Have Your Say, whereby anyone can vote on the six applicants for the candidacy. There are next to no controls on voting whatsoever - you simply select a candidate's box and click "Vote". There is no requirement or provision to:
  • Give your name
  • Give your address
  • Confirm you are a voter in London
  • Confirm you are not a partisan for another side/a mischief maker intent on ensuring UKIP is saddled with the most absurd candidate available.
Absolutely anybody anywhere on the planet can vote in this. And what's to stop multiple voting? The site seems to detect second vote attempts, but there's no shortage of technical people who know how to disguise a computer and/or IP address so that they could repeatedly vote to their heart's content.

At stake in all this are large blocks of "bonus votes" that will be counted at the UKIP conference when they make their final choice. So there is a serious potential for mischief making to distort the outcome.

Increasing public involvement in politics is a desirable and necessary aim. But to do so in such a way that the outcome is invariably tainted and discredited is not the way to go about it. Let's hope no serious party follows UKIP's disastrous decision.

By the way wouldn't it be hilarious if Winston "Six Parties" McKenzie won the nomination?

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