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Government applies "lessons learned" from online voter registration crash

Published 20 April 2017

Ahead of June 8 General Election, GDS says changes have been implemented on the back of temporary outage resulting from user demand "spike" before referendum last year


The Cabinet Office has said it has applied the lessons learned from an outage in its online voting registration service in June 2016 ahead of last year's EU referendum as the country gears up for a fresh General Election in less than two months time.

After announcing Tuesday (April 18) that a fresh national poll would go ahead on June 8, barely two years after the May 2015 General Election, the government said it has acted on concerns about meeting demand for online voter registration after a temporary failure in its system on June 7 last year.

Prospective voters were given an additional 48 hours to register for the EU referendum when the government opted to pass emergency legislation to account for a failure to handle demand though the system on deadline day. The issue was a focus of a recent parliamentary report on the referendum.

However, the Cabinet Office has maintained that the system was not brought down by a cyber attack or outside influence, but by increased demand ahead of the referendum registration deadline.

"We have been very clear about the cause of the website outage in June 2016. It was due to a spike in users just before the registration deadline. There is no evidence to suggest malign intervention," said the Cabinet Office in a statement. "We conducted a full review into the outage and have applied the lessons learned. We will ensure these are applied for all future polls and online services."

In a report on lessons learnt from the EU referendum campaign, the Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) said that since launching on June 10 2014, the collapse of the voter registration technology before the referendum was seen as the most significant example of software failure.

"The collapse of the website, managed by the Cabinet Office and the Government Digital Service (GDS), was blamed on 'unprecedented demand' for the service, with 515,256 online applications to register to vote recorded on June 7," noted the findings.

"The previous record for the largest number of online applications received in a day was 469,047 on April 20, 2015."

According to an official Electoral Commission report, the voter registration website crash was hampered by a number of duplicate applications. An estimated 38% of applications received during the campaign were duplicates.

"The Electoral Commission noted that in 26 local authority areas, more than half of the applications received in that period were duplicates," said the report.

Misinformation spread via social media that voters had to re-register their details for the referendum further complicated the issue, according to the committee's findings.

The report backed the Electoral Commission's calls for GDS to implement a service to allow voters to check if they are already correctly registered before submitting fresh applications online.

"While PACAC is aware of the technical issues that would need to be overcome to deliver such a service, it would be of invaluable assistance in preventing the Register to Vote website from collapsing due to high levels of demand again ahead of future elections and referendums," said the findings.

Related articles:

Referendum voter registration deadline extended after online failure

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