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The 1066 election

Rory Cellan-Jones | 11:50 UK time, Tuesday, 27 April 2010

It's a desperate battle between three candidates determined to convince the British people they are best suited to lead them into a brighter future. It's so close that you'd be a fool to predict the outcome, but I've a sneaking suspicion that it will end badly for at least one of them - all fun and games, as they say, until someone loses an eye. I'm talking of course about the 1066 election.

It's a campaign initiated by Chris Leach, an ICT teacher in Northamptonshire. After discovering that year 7 pupils at his school were studying the Norman invasion he came up with a way of introducing both ICT and politics into history lessons. His idea was an election campaign between the three claimants to the throne after the death of Edward the Confessor.

First, he gave one candidate to each of three year 7 groups. Then he created Twitter accounts for each of the three contenders, Harold Godwinson (@whs_hgodwinson), Harald Hardrada (@whs_hhadrada) and William the Conqueror (@whs_wnormandy). Spooling back to history lessons more than 30 years ago, I seem to remember that Harold Godwinson got the throne, but then suffered a devastating by-election defeat at Hastings. Maybe he should have done a coalition deal with Harald from Norway.

Poster from Harold Godwinson campaignAnyway, Chris Leach set up an internet poll and got his own Twitter followers to start voting for the three candidates so that the children would get a competitive edge about the project. The school groups then set about creating election posters to promote their individual candidates - as you can see from this one, Harold's supporters are fighting quite a nationalistic campaign.

There's even a plan for election broadcasts and a leaders' debate, and another web tool, Wallwisher, is being used to collect questions that can be put to William, Harold and Harald.

All just a bit of fun then, but Chris Leach tells me it also reflects an interest in the general election campaign amongst the pupils. He says they have been watching the prime ministerial debates and learning about the election in PSHE classes.

I will be watching closely to see how the 1066 election turns out - it promises to be almost as hard-fought as the real thing. And of course, it's even more digital: in 1066 you can vote online, one thing you can't do in 2010, for good or for ill.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    For good or for ill? I think it's definitely for good.

    While an online election would be technically possible, the huge amount at stake in an election coupled with the human factor makes it inadvisable.

    Lets assume we have a system where everyone is issued a voting token by post. On May 6th they go to vote.gov.uk, enter their voting token and then cast their vote.

    Now consider the problems:

    1) Ensuring the voting token reaches the voter. It could be lost or stolen in the post or taken by someone else in the household.

    2) Running the voting interface. We've seen time and again websites being taken offline by dedicated individuals with access to a large botnet. While running a website that can cope with 60million hits in a day isn't impossible, it's certainly not cheap or easy, especially if someone is actively trying to disrupt it.

    3) Preserving transparency. The current system of ballot boxes is extremely simple and robust. As soon as the process is handled by a computer, all of that disappears. Rather than being a piece of paper in a box, your vote is now a number in a database far away.

    4) Preserving security. Even with the most stringent engineering principles and testing, software engineers still make mistakes. It would only take one mistake and one clever hostile individual gaining access to the system to invalidate all the electronic votes. As well as considering security on the server side, we'd have to worry about the security of the user's computer. One malignant program could manipulate the voting process or steal the user's voting token and vote for them against their will.

    With so much at stake in a general election an online system would allow the possibility of massive voting fraud.

  • Comment number 2.

    #1 great points but you only touched on the biggest problem of remote voting, be it postal or phone or online; that of coercion. Many households will be run by a dominant personality and either through a passive or aggressive control will often expect everyone else to conform to their personal agenda. Having a secret ballot where the person must be alone when casting the vote reduces the chances of coercion. Never elimated as we have seen, but reduced.

  • Comment number 3.

    #1 Whereas I accept your comments to a point.

    In your point 1, can that not happen now with polling cards being distributed to houses etc; Then when turning up to your Polling Station, you don't get asked for corresponding ID. So, would online be any different?

  • Comment number 4.

    If it ain't broke don't fix it. The black metal box, bit of paper and stubby ball point works with virtually 100% reliability and costs very little. Compared to the likely budget overun and reliabilty of any national IT scheme only a maniac (or someone with shares in the IT company) would seriously suggest replacing the polling station with the PC.

  • Comment number 5.

    The children are all from Winchester House School in Northamptonshire and are all so excited about being mentioned here - especially the girl whose poster has been shown. Children representing William and Harald have complained about BBC bias though ;)

  • Comment number 6.

    1066 campaign! No rural Broadband but cheap cider for all!

  • Comment number 7.

    surely the american disastrous electronic counting systems of the past should tell us that paper and a box is still the best.

  • Comment number 8.

    It would be an interesting exercise to have people post their vote to a central database so that results could be seen more quickly.

  • Comment number 9.

    "It's a desperate battle between three candidates determined to convince the British people they are best suited to lead them into a brighter future"

    Errm - make that the "English people" thank you.

  • Comment number 10.

    Voting systems are manual.
    Financial transactions are electronic.

    Conclusion:
    The integrity of voting systems is more important than the integrity of financial systems.

    Does that sound correct?

  • Comment number 11.

    simhedges, it's not just the people in England who are to be convinced...

  • Comment number 12.

    It was in 1066! No doubt King Malcolm III and Prince Gruffydd ap Cynan and their respective subjects looked on with more detachment at the events of 1066 than the English did.

  • Comment number 13.

    The Big 3 propose to continue sailing the sinking ship of state while the officer class swan about pretending that we haven’t hit an iceberg and while those who have direct access to the captain’s table are first in line for the lifeboats. Meanwhile everyone else is locked below deck bailing out. 100 years after the Titanic sunk, we do not appear to have made much progress either with the class system or with recognising that we’ve been lied to since day 1 and that this will continue until we use the democratic process to regain control of our own lives.

 

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