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Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Electronic Voting; In All 5 Houses? - (b) 28Feb2007

In between two motions on sex, or at least homosexuality, Synod had to think a bit about new technologies. The new Synod chamber, once refurbished, we were told, would have the facility to speed up voting, by having electronic voting.

I suppose I guessed that would be some sort of ‘Who wants To Be A Millionaire’ style box attached to the back of the seat in front or whatever. Stupidly, I had forgotten that the seats are no longer fixed, and that any electronic voting system would need to be hand-held, portable and wireless. And with a microphone attached, for the making of speeches in the chamber.

Suddenly, a whole new range of possibilities becomes apparent. Could members now vote from the gallery? (- currently forbidden under Standing Orders, but actually where a number of members - especially dare I mention, bloggers, sit; but currently cannot vote, unless there is enough warning the vote is coming up, and a handful of members dash down the stairs to the chamber!) What if the hand held unit is taken out of the chamber? Can votes be still made? Will there be a pin-number to tie it to a particular vote? Can my voting pattern be tracked, or made public? Could somebody else get hold of my unit, and surreptitiously vote on my behalf? Or could somehow some external block-vote be made, completely altering Synod’s mind on an issue. That would be disastrous. (Unless of course it was towards the direction I particularly wanted. - Actually that is not even funny. Security is vital here.)

There will be a few things that need ironing out. It is perhaps all too easy to make snap decisions on voting. Actually, voting by a show of hands can be very helpful, as some Synod members who may not be experts in a particular subject being voted on, can more easily get the feel from more experienced colleagues.

It will also speed up the laborious ‘vote by houses’, or even a ‘vote of the full house’ procedures considerably. Synod could get more done, I suspect. There is also the possibility of being able to show voting stats graphically immediately as votes are made. It could be a whole new way of 'doing' synod.

But I think there may well be something else going on here. I suspect it is likely to have far reaching consequences too. In that other 'House' across the road, on the banks of the Thames, I am sure there will be those watching to see how Synod copes with electronic voting. After all, these two national institutions have much they in common...

Parliament & the National Church have:

  • shared buildings a number of times
  • shared debating patterns & styles of government
  • shared voting methods
  • shared Head (of State and Church)
  • some shared membership (at least 1 MP, a number of Lords Spiritual...)
  • add your own here...
I suspect Parliament will be happy for Synod to iron out any difficulties, and will promptly copy.

So then it won't be electronic voting just in the Houses of Laity, Clergy, and Bishops; but probably the Houses of Commons and Peers too...

Alastair GS101

Edit: A photo of one of the votes of the whole Synod, just before members file out of the 'Ayes' and 'Noes' doors

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