Delays in declaring Sadiq Khan’s victory in last month’s mayoral election were caused by an incorrect setting on the database servers used to count Londoners’ votes, London Assembly members were told on Thursday.
Elections for the Mayor and Assembly use three separate ballot papers, one each for the Assembly constituency and London-wide list contest and a third paper on which Londoners can cast a first and second preference vote in the mayoral race.
To help simplify and speed up counting, the ballot papers are scanned and the voters’ choices stored in a database from which software then calculates the results of each of the three contests.
Counting started on Friday May 6th and progress was sufficiently speedy that some officials and commentators speculated London was set for the earliest ever declaration.
However progress was suddenly delayed when, “just before” 4pm, staff from system providers IntElect became aware of discrepancies in the tally of votes recorded for each mayoral candidate.
On Thursday Greater London Returning Officer Jeff Jacobs told an Assembly panel set up to investigate the delays that IntElect reported these discrepancies to his team “about an hour later” at 5.15pm.
Jacobs then initiated an “urgent internal discussion” with City Hall’s legal team which subsequently confirmed “small discrepancies” between the “printed mayoral results” and the number of ballot papers.
At around 6.40pm IntElect “reconfirmed” the problem and identified a “coding issue” as the cause.
The firm later advised it could produce a “consolidated” result from the raw master database of votes but said it wasn’t possible to say how long that would take.
Mr Jacobs said he “rejected” suggestions that he abandon attempts to declare the mayoral result and ask candidates, staff and media to return the following day.
He also admitted to doubts about a decision not to “actively” brief the media and candidates’ agents about the delays sooner, but said he took that decision because it wasn’t possible to accurately answer questions until around 9pm.
The time taken for IntElect to manually calculate and verify the result meant Sadiq Khan’s victory over Tory rival Zac Goldsmith was only finally confirmed in the early hours of Saturday, 7th May.
Appearing alongside Mr Jacobs, IntElect CEO Steve Gowers told AMs that a setting on the database server meant the number of votes for each candidate wasn’t received in the correct order and that this was responsible for the discrepancies.
Assembly Members are expected to produce a list of recommendations aimed at avoiding any glitches at the 2020 election. It’s understood this could include asking IntElect to reimburse City Hall for some or all of the costs caused by the delays.