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Synod: electronic voting

THE SYNOD has decided to press on with introducing an electronic voting system for its debates.

The Synod had already approved the principle of electronic voting in July 2004, said Prebendary Kay Garlick (Hereford). The business committee had laid out its recommendations. The first recommendation was that the system, should be used whenever there was a division of the whole Synod or by Houses. “We found ourselves wondering whether we should retain the possibility of walking through doors for particularly important or sensitive debates. And then we realised this was pure sentimentality.”

An important implication would be the facility for detailed voting lists that showed who had voted which way. It would also be easier to record abstentions.

The Archdeacon of Suffolk, the Ven. Geoffrey Arrand (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich), questioned whether people should know how he voted. He was elected to use his own judgement, and not to feel pressured by those around him. People might vote differently if they voted in secret. Revealing how individuals voted would open Synod members to being targeted with propaganda or abuse.

Philip French (Rochester) welcomed electronic voting, but was disappointed with the superficial attention given to the security and reliability of the system. Integrity of voting was important. His concerns were over reliability, authentication of the voter, and authorisation.

Prudence Dailey (Oxford) was not convinced that abstentions should be counted. There had been occasions when, if she had followed her heart rather than the direction the Synod was taking, she would have been the only one voting in that way.

The Bishop of Chichester, the Rt Revd John Hind, said that there would be an imbalance in the system if some votes were by a show of hands but the more complicated or controversial ones were subject to electronic voting. It would be better to record all votes.

Gavin Oldham (Oxford) said that he had direct experience of interactive voting, and it could give voting displays and analyses of voting patterns immediately.

Timothy Cox (Blackburn) asked about the comparative costs of buying and renting the system, and was told that the Synod would be renting it from the Church House Corporation.

The Revd Stephen Lynas (Bath & Wells) said it was possible to text a pin number out of the chamber and make a fraudulent vote. He asked what the protocol was for mobile phones, PDAs, and laptops with wireless connections during debates.

Dr Christina Baxter (Southwell & Nottingham) said that watching others vote could help people make up their minds. She appealed to Synod managers not to be “trigger happy” by using electronic voting all the time. Some people, herself included, did not necessarily understand immediately all the issues involved, and so would watch those who, they trusted, did understand them, to see the way they voted.

The recommendations were overwhelmingly approved.

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