Opt2Vote are a rising star within the local business community. They have delivered voting services in 100 local authorities and have handled over 10 million postal ballots in three years. (Wonder if they’re engaged in the Euro election? Would be good to have a local company at vanguard of delivering one of the world’s largest plebiscites.)
To those unfamiliar with their work, Opt2Vote delivered a ‘postal vote management’ solution at the Glenrothes by-election. That service went down quite well according to the Opt2Vote newsletter. It quotes Fife Council Electoral Officer, Iain Grant, applauding the system.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing at the Glenrothes by-election of course. Somehow a register of the people who voted at that election and the marked register of postal votes disappeared into thin air (which Opt2vote was in no way considered culpable).
Indeed, when Fife Today/Glenrothes Gazette spoke to Electoral Officer Iain Grant again in February he conceded: “I don’t know what the outcome will be. It’s unfortunate that this doesn’t make any of us involved in this election look good.”
The inquiry into the shambles blamed the Sherriff Clerk and Fife Council for a number of serious errors in delivery and logging etc.
That was one distraction Opt2Vote could have done without. But now the company has attracted the attention of Politicalbetting.com which is querying the level of involvement private companies ought to have in elections.
[As it happens it was precisely because of computer records made by Opt2vote that a postal vote register could be reconstructed after the loss of Glenrothes records… so in this instance the new-fangled private company spared the blushes of the traditional, public sector organisers.]
But now Private Eye has gone one step further (no link available – so uploaded a transcript here). It’s alleging that Labour set up Opt2vote and that the company is now exploiting the freedom of Labour’s light touch approach to regulation of postal voting. Which really muddies things.
Mike Smithson’s original piece in Politicalbetting was pretty circumspect, so who can say if he shares Private Eye’s conclusions. But there must be reassurance and clarity in elections processes. Private Eye has made some pretty serious allegations – basically that this company is Labour progeny and issued into a distant corner of NI so as to ensure democracy can be fraudulently manipulated in Britain. And because Private Eye is respected in its investigative reporting, this must be treated seriously.
But I can’t quite believe this for a number of reasons – largely because if you’re a devious Labour spin doctor and you want to manipulate elections, would you have allowed Jeff Peel (the MD of Quadriga Consulting and a former high-profile leadership figure within NI Conservatives) to do PR etc for this supposedly fraud-friendly Labour vehicle? And geography doesn’t lend greater weight to the theory of connivance – what has geography to do with consultants who travel to be in situ, connectivity that translates kilometres into kilobytes and software that stores physical data as downloadable files? Or in other words, geography doesn’t suggest conspiracy. So what are Private Eye not telling?
The magazine has a duty to reveal more – if not to Eye readers then at the very least to The Electoral Commission. With so many elections coming down the spout here (Euro June 09; Westminster 2010; Council 2011; Assembly 2012), we need absolute transparency and confidence in how elections are organised here. After all we know that postal voting is open to fraud by those with criminal intent, so it’s in the public interest for public reps and others to go the extra mile to ensure things are squeaky clean.
Private Eye’s ‘Ratbiter’ can’t leave it like this. What is the evidence for this supposed Labour link? And what does the Labour Party (which recently set up in NI) have to say about this? Are local Labour activists even aware of this local voting solutions company? Are they aware that the Eye is making these allegations? IF Labour is conniving in electoral fraud you might imagine it’s the Tory Party that suffers most. The Tories have also recently started up (a new force) here – what do they have to say about this?
There are some strong local interests behind the Eye’s allegations, which coincidentally arrive just at the same time as the Damian McBride/Derek Draper folly. What’s the next move? Who’s going to clear the air?
CLARIFICATION: Jeff Peel of Quadriga Consulting Ltd says: ‘Quadriga undertook a very modest project for Opt2Vote many years ago and it didn’t involve any PR work. We have not worked for the company since then.’