[E-voting] E-voting machines to be used in UK

Louise Ferguson louise.ferguson at gmail.com
Wed Oct 25 21:15:20 IST 2006

On 25/10/06, Colm MacCarthaigh <colm at stdlib.net> wrote:
> On Wed, Oct 25, 2006 at 02:54:11PM +0100, Louise Ferguson wrote:
> > They'd be directed to individuals who know something about the issue.
> > Who would tell them the reasons why the range of e-voting options
> currently
> > live in the UK are not a particularly good idea; why some options are
> worse
> > than others; what the experience has been in other jurisdictions; and
> what
> > the holes are in the UK government argument. In other words, provide a
> > counterweight to the government line and the vendor line.
> > And added to that there'd be some input in press approach terms, to
> ensure
> > some snappy quotes.
> Cool :-) It's important to note though that what really suceeds in these
> things is volunteer dedication. People need to be absolutely passionate
> about an issue to really get somewhere, because it takes a *lot* of
> work. So it's important to look for that and recognise it when you see
> it, and then get out of their way and do everything you can to help
> them.

Absolutely. Passion is lifeblood.
But one thing NGOs in the UK suffered from was lack of anyone to answer the
phone when the media came calling (and they do, a lot, 24/7). A lot of the
time the reason why counter arguments are not seen in the press is not
because the journalists don't want to cover it, but because there was nobody
there to answer their questions. Providing written evidence to tight
deadlines for official enquiries also takes time. And so on. It's difficult
for any group of volunteers to provide that kind of support 24/7, 52 weeks a
year across a range of subjects, and often at very short notice. A lot of
people in ordinary jobs don't even have access to the Web at work.

> But seriously, in high-level general terms, policy is guided by the
> Advisory
> > Council (AC), who help to inform the organisation on particular policy
> > areas, help us decide on what policy areas to focus at any given time,
> and
> > so on (there are around 12 areas on the table at the moment I believe).
> We
> > actually share one AC member with Liberty, and there's also some overlap
> > with FIPR AC and Trustees (while Shami of Liberty is a FIPR AC member,
> so
> > you could argue this is all very incestuous).
> That kind of structure is pretty much the exact opposite of what we have
> here, and it's bit far from what DRI has too. I don't know the specifics
> of your set-up, but those kinds of structures can lead to dangerous
> amounts of internal politics, committee inertia and resentment with
> volunteers. It can also attract the exact wrong type of people,
> CV-fillers, status-seekers and power-nuts.

Keep informed/Help/Guide. Not decide, run, tell (and also meets
infrequently). And that's not *the structure*. That's just one element of
it. Another major element being the volunteers, another being the
supporters, another being the board, and another the tiny staff of two very
part-timers; and then comms channels are also part of the structure.

Knowing many of the people involved in ORG at some level though (well
> Duw, Cory and Ben) it's hard to see it going far wrong, but still I'm
> surprised to heere it described in terms of top-down policy like that.

AC only guides/informs/helps. As above. People like Cory are on the AC.
Maybe AC people can't put the time in on a day-to-day ongoing basis, but
they are there if needed.

> And I'm not sure that lack of money is a good thing. The vast majority of
> > NFP campaigns and organiations fail owing to lack of resources,
> Money is one of the least important resourcs. Talent and passion matter
> *way* more. We get a lot done without a cent, and on at least one
> ocasional it totally saved my bacon that we hadn't got a penny to our
> name!

You got sued!?
I agree, you can do loads without a cent. And talent and passion are
But I know from my own experience that really talented and passionate people
also have v busy lives. And end up having babies, getting divorced, and
nervous breakdowns, and then they emigrate to Australia (ha, in one NFP I
was involved in majorly, two of my fellow talented and passionate people
disappeared down under, in rapid succession, just when each had got to grips
with what they were doing.)

> in the UK at least. Lots of people may think certain things, but it
> > takes *somebody* to spend *some time* over a significant period to get
> > something done, and unless they are independently wealthy, or have
> > jobs that provide them with endless free daytime hours, this can be a
> > problem in the longer term.
> You can't pay someone to be passionate about something.

True - but you can buy some time. If people are contributing significant
time for free already, what gives when events take off, when deadlines loom?
The older I get, the less fair I feel it is to *expect* people to work
through the night/not cook dinner for their children and so on. Maybe just a
sign of my age :-/

And I know that
> the people involved in ICTE are very busy people, with businesses to
> run, work and college committments to fulfill, and more.
> If you are missing that dedication

I don't think that was even an issue (and I certainly didn't mention this as
one for us).

I was referring the history of the sector, which John Phelan had described,
a description with which I partially concur; to all the *previous*
organisations in the UK, fragmentation, niche operations full of what he
called 'sandal-wearing zealots', that have run their course (e.g. CDR).

I think for quite a few people, one major takeaway from the scene prior to
2005 was the fragmentation, and the arrival and disappearance of small
groups, without any real established organisation (a la EFF), and all based
around volunteers.
It's quite amusing to see hundreds of people in the UK paying money to EFF
so that EFF can fund outreach workers or similar in Europe. No, amusing is
maybe not the right word.

And speaking of EFF, it does have passionate and clever people, and it does
also pay them, and they work far above and beyond the call of duty from what
I've seen. They too give up their Sundays. I don't think passion, talent,
and payment are mutually exclusive.

, try to look for fundamental reasons
> why, are potential participants being discouraged because they find it
> overly officious? How low is the barrier to participation? Will paying
> someone make this worse? Would volunteers then resent that others are
> being paid when they are not?

As I said above, my comments were responding to John Phelan's point about
the history of the sector in the UK, and talking about volunteers and
previous sector organisations in general. Plus I've worked with quite a few
NGOs (US and UK) over the years, big and small, funded and unfunded. I was
not in any way referring to ORG. Quite the reverse - ORG has a lively and
active volunteer community, doing great things, ably managed by Suw.

> People want weekends, evenings...A life. That's why activity by
> > volunteers eventually, and almost always, peters out (people graduate,
> > or get married, or get too old to stay up all night, or just get plain
> > tired). In the world of NFPs, the biggest response to anything is "I
> > don't have any - more - time". Money can buy that time (and usually at
> > a low wage compared to the private sector).
> Talk to Ben Laurie about Open Source, and how OpenSSL and the ASF
> maintain a very long term focus despite volunteer churn.

Ah, Ben, a man of many volunteer responsibilities...

The churn thing. Maybe this works okay when lots of cogs fit the same space,
but when you're talking about individuals bringing very particular
skillsets, I'm not so sure that churn is a useful way forward.

I think NFPs need to ensure they're not burning people out. Sometimes people
don't know when to stop/their organisation doesn't know when to do the same,
and then it all comes crashing down, which is neither good for the
organisation or the individual/family. Have seen this happen in other
organisations a few times.

Fundamentally, ORG seemsto have things in hand anyway, and be doing a
> better job than others who have gone before, but there may well be
> lessons to be learned from ICTE and others :)

Colm, looks like we (UCL/ORG/others?) may be running something serious on
e-voting February (at least one international visitor, maybe more). Maybe
you could come over and join us/advise us :-). It would be great to have
some of you over for that. Exact plan/date not yet firm - we'll let you know
the details as and when.

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