Guernsey Press

States ‘enters 21st century’ with electronic voting

Electronic voting will finally become a reality in the States chamber after being discussed on seven occasions over the last two decades.

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States Assembly & Constitution Committee president Deputy Carl Meerveld. (Picture by Luke Le Prevost, 30672798)

Despite several strong speeches against the proposals brought by the States Assembly & Constitution Committee, members voted 28-9 to bring in a bespoke simultaneous electronic voting system.

The main arguments against related to its cost, a forecast £109,000 over the first three years.

It was not the right time, many said, and the money could be better spent elsewhere.

There was also the loss of tradition, with Deputy Peter Roffey saying that it would mean those listening on the radio would no longer hear the votes being called, a stance taken by Deputy Susan Aldwell, who described the pleasure she used to get from this.

Those backing the plan took the view that it was time the States entered the 21st century – or even the 20th, as some said, since other parliaments had electronic voting systems for years.

But while the Isle of Man and Jersey governments were singled out as having such systems, Deputy Lyndon Trott reminded members that the ‘Mother of All Parliaments’, the House of Commons, still relied on traditional methods.

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Transparency was a key word mentioned by the supporters, with some repeating the long-held view that some deputies waited to hear how other members voted before casting their own vote.

Deputy Peter Roffey was convinced that members were principled enough not to do this, but Deputy John Gollop said he knew of cases where this had happened, and some members would simply vote the opposite way to another for political or personal reasons.

Deputy Aidan Matthews later joked that he was not sure how to vote, and would wait to see what everyone else did before deciding.

The member who has called for most recorded votes in this Assembly and the last two, Deputy Lester Queripel, said that he had not wanted to do so but did it to ensure transparency.

He told members that if the propositions were rejected he would have to ‘up his game’ and call for many more recorded votes.

A call for a guillotine motion made by Deputy Gavin St Pier was rejected by 16 votes to 19, but this was followed by a rare challenge to the vote and for a call for it to be repeated.

Second time around, the vote was 15 votes to 19.

Deputy Sam Haskins made the challenge and said that he did so deliberately to make a point about the need for electronic voting. Before becoming a deputy he had been ‘flabbergasted’ at the fact that it was not being used.

This was the seventh time in 20 years that electronic voting had been debated, said Deputy Simon Fairclough, and it was time for the States to approve it.

‘If not now, when?’ asked Deputy Charles Parkinson, among others.

He said there would always be other priorities and if the States was minded, it could simply spend all on health and nothing else.

It cost £40,000 a year to print hard copies of the Billets d’Etat and more than 60% of members still used these, said Deputy Heidi Soulsby, whose amendment had led to Sacc being directed to produce its report.

Several members referred to the amount of staff time it took to handle recorded votes and praised the efforts of a three-strong team, but Deputy Soulsby was unhappy that this still happened.

‘In the third decade of the 21st century we are expecting highly experienced clerks to tick boxes on a piece of paper,’ she said.

Chief minister Deputy Peter Ferbrache supported the proposal, on the grounds that it would slim down States procedures, and in the hope that it would stop

Deputy Queripel calling for recorded votes several times at each meeting.

As well as providing transparency of voting, it would also allow people to look back on past votes in the years to come, said Deputy Neil Inder, who spoke of the almost impossible task of looking at a member’s voting pattern from several years ago.

Sacc president Carl Meerveld had pointed out that reducing the number of deputies by one would save £40,000 a year. Deputy Susan Aldwell pointed out that if the member to record the lowest number of public votes at the last election would be the victim, that would be Deputy Meerveld himself.

He later said he planned to set his aspirations higher and aim for 37th place next time.

‘The fact is, this system is needed,’ he told members, and the majority agreed.