My cunning plan…

I have pondered the electoral roll situation for the last few days. I believe I have come up with a suggestion for the Government that

a) is feasible (at least based on my wet finger estimates of what is involved)

b) doesn’t break any laws (as far as I can see)

c) might actually work (assuming we don’t let politics get in the way).

My plan is so cunningly simple that I might consider copyrighting, however as it is based on core principles of best practice in Information Quality Managment that I don’t think I’d get very far. What it doesn’t do is blow smoke up journalist’s wossits (thanks Simon at Tuppenceworth for point that out) while the deckchairs on the Titanic are rearranged in an unamusing game of ‘Find the Lady’.

My suggestion is as follows:

  1. Review the Electoral Register processes – look for the root causes of our whopping over statement
    • Is there a source of information for registered deaths to remove the dear departed from the list?
    • does the process handle the mobility of the population in a suitably robust manner? If not, how can that be addressed
    • Do people actually know the correct process to follow when they move house? If not, how can that be addressed (no pun intended)?
    • Does the current structure of Local Authorities managing Electoral Register data without a clear central authority with control/co-ordination functions (such as to build the national ‘master’ file) have any contribution to the overstatement of the Register?
      • Actually, if I’m not too busy over the coming weeks I might actually do some research and do this bit for the Government. If anybody wants it they can email me at daragh AT obriend DOT com.
  2. Modify the Processes and Information Architecture to address the Root Causes identified in 1) above.
    • What additional ‘data markers’ can/should be used to more uniquely identify people – PPS numbers may be a good candidate key, but other data markers (date of birth, mother’s maiden name etc) might also be useful to allow for matching on name + 2 other values
    • Could the Electoral Register process make use of a data source of people who are moving house (such as An Posts’s mail redirection service or How can that be utilised in an enhanced process to manage & maintain the electoral register? These are technically surrogate sources of reality rather than being ‘reality’ itself, but they might be useful.
    • Document the revised processes
    • Define new systems and database requirements based on those processes
    • Implement revised organisation frameworks (such as centralised ‘master file’ and a centralised Electoral Register governance board)
    • Change work practices in Local Authorities
    • Define stewardship roles and responsibilities for Electoral Register Data Quality
  3. Build the necessary culture, process, systems etc.
    • Update the Electoral Register Information Architecture to support the revised processes – process first then technology is the rule.
    • Invest in appropriate software tools to automate and support matching across datasets to build a “Single View of Voter” master file.
    • Invest in training of people (local authority staff, central government staff etc.) to use the processes correctly.
    • Instill a culture of quality with regards to our Election Register data
  4. Write to all individuals currently on the electoral roll (including the probable duplicates)
    • Inform them that the electoral register is being renewed in its entirety and if they do not re-register at their current address they will not be entitled to vote. Put a closing date on this well in advance of the election and the issuing of the draft register of electors for the election…
    • Re-registration could be by a paper form, an OCR scannable form or (if the processes are right) through an on-line registration function feeding the central Single View of Voter.
    • Much like the Sweepstakes – if you are not in you can’t win (hell, offer a holiday as a prize or something if necessary).
  5. Destroy the current electoral register & begin media awareness campaign
    • Once the mail out has been done, the current electoral register should be retired from use
    • TV, Radio, Internet, Information leaflets etc. should be produced to train/educate people on the process for registering to vote and maintaining your voter record if you move address.
  6. Monitor and control
    • The ‘Governance Board’ should insitute a monitoring and control check process using ‘surrogate’ data sources such as to verify the percentage of known ‘movers’ or  who are updating their electoral register details.
    • Likewise the Register of Deaths should be used to check the % of ‘ex-citizens’ who have had their details removed from the register
    • Census data might be used when available to do a full audit of the electoral register on a regular basis.
    • Where the percentage error rate for movers and/or deceased goes above a defined threshold per measurement cycle this should trigger a Root Cause Analysis review and may prompt a dump and refresh of the electoral register as proposed here.

 The key to this is clear definition of process, and an acceptance that juggling with things in a half-baked way will not deliver the desired sustainable improvement in quality and reliability. Measurement is also critical – not in the context of setting quotas or targets but from the perspective of measuring if the process is performing as we expected.

It takes a bit more cogitation time than plumping to use Enumerators to do the work (although there is a potential role for the CSO and Enumerators in an ‘audit’ capacity for the electoral register in this context). However it is based on sound principles of quality management and will deliver a sustained increase in the quality of our core Democratic Information Asset.

To learn more about Total Information Quality Management, come and see Larry English at the Irish Computer Society/IAIDQ Information Quality Master Class in the RDS on the 5th of May.

2 thoughts on “My cunning plan…”

  1. Darragh,

    Just to let you know, I just posted a piece on that references your pieces on this site about the register.


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