Thursday, 30 October 2014

Election Oversight

I see that Philip Ozouf has called for international observers.

“International election observers should be present during Jersey elections, according to a winning politician. Senator-elect Philip Ozouf said having observers would give a stamp of approval to the work done by officials. Mr Ozouf was an election observer in the Cayman Islands for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in 2013.”

He said: "The thing I am now going to be pressing for is for our law to be changed in Jersey to allow international election observers to be present for the whole of the election and not just the count. Then for the day after the election to make a statement as to whether or not the election has been carried out in a free, fair and accurate way."

But how effective is election monitoring? There is an interesting article by Susan D. Hyde and Judith G. Kelley called “The Limits of Election Monitoring”. They point out that

“On the positive side, observers can verify that governments are indeed playing by the rules, which can be important in quelling ‘sore loser’ protests, increasing voter confidence, assisting the international community in assessing the legitimacy of the elections, and in theory, promoting democratization.”
Now it is clear that some people have unfairly castigated Sarah Ferguson as a “sore loser” for claiming what was a legitimate right. The limits of error have been set at 1%. But perhaps an extra factor should be an absolute difference in votes, as well as a percentage.

The reason for this was stated clearly by Edward B Foley in his article “Recounts: Elections in Overtime”. Looking at the USA, he comments that “it is extremely rare to have a major state-wide election unsettled after Election Night. The mathematical "law" of large numbers accounts for this statistical fact.”

“Though a small local election involving only a thousand ballots could easily end up with only a ten-vote margin between the two leading candidates-and thus the necessity of a recount and perhaps a judicial lawsuit to determine whether that ten-vote margin holds up as valid-a large state-wide election involving a million ballots or more is much less likely to end up in such an easily disputable ten-vote margin.”
And he explains by means of an example:

“Think of it this way: Say two candidates run neck-and-neck in a small local election with only 1, 000 voters and they split the vote almost evenly 50.1 percent to 49.9 percent; the outcome is a two-vote margin. However, if two candidates receive the same neck and-neck percentages in a large state-wide race involving 1 million ballots, the result is a 2,000-vote margin, which is not as easily contestable.”
So perhaps the percentages should be revised to also include a threshold for the larger difference in our own Senatorial elections, because as Foley’s example shows, a bare percentage is useful with small numbers of votes, far less so with larger numbers. Alternatively, a smaller percentage could be set for fixed for Senatorial elections to reflect this mathematical deficiency in the Jersey election law.

In fact, mathematician Philip Stark has devised a method in the USA called “risk-limiting auditing”, described in a 2008 paper, “Conservative statistical post-election audits”

“What this new auditing method does is count enough to have high confidence that [a full recount] wouldn't change the answer…You can think of this as an intelligent recount. It stops as soon as it becomes clear that it's pointless to continue. It gives stronger evidence that the outcome is right.”
His methodology has been endorsed by the American Statistical Association as well as numerous academics and he Brennan Center for Justice.

Risk-limiting auditing relies on a published statistical formula, based on an accepted risk limit, and on the margin of victory to determine how many randomly selected ballots should be manually checked. Perhaps it is something the States statistical unit could look into.

Returning to election observers, what also can they do?

“When governments do not play by the rules, observers can reduce fraud that would otherwise occur and condemn governments for election manipulation, sometimes validating domestic protest, as happened in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004. “
However, the really important work is also done before and after the elections:

“International monitors conduct a great deal of on-the-ground work months before an election even takes place…They pressure governments -- either through direct meetings or public condemnation -- to update voter registers, support domestic observers, ensure that ballot materials are delivered throughout the country, and adopt technologies that make blatant election fraud harder.”
Of those items listed above, there can be no doubt that the voting registers contain errors in Jersey – duplication of electors where they have moved Parish or District, and the older address has not been removed, mistakes when boundary voters are entered on two lists for Districts within one Parish, and I would not mind betting there are probably dead people on there as well.

The rolling electoral role means incremental changes are made as data comes from electoral register forms about new addresses, but change of address or death is an absence of an entry. Unlike the old days, when a completely new register was created, the rolling register maintains errors for three years.

But the authors also note that observers may be biased because they are not entirely as independent as the word suggests:

“It is important to remember that observers are agents of donors, governments, and organizations, whose need for diplomacy or stability can push monitors away from frankly assessing elections. This problem is underreported and not discussed enough, either because many in the media assume that all monitors are disinterested “election police” or because policymakers choose to turn a blind eye.”
And it also notes that:

“Yet due to poor or delayed funding, many missions arrive too late or are too understaffed to evaluate the full pre-election period and document whether there were problems with the unfair use of government resources, the voter registration process, the way the electoral commission is appointed and run, the rules for candidates and parties, and so on. A similar dynamic holds for after the vote, as observers and donors often shift their focus too quickly to elections elsewhere.”
There is now a moratorium on presenting any propositions after the nomination period, but that still does not prevent a Minister from presenting a promise to bring a proposition.

For instance, Philip Ozouf himself came out with a “New Deal for St Helier” well into his campaign, as his ratings clearly were flagging. Is it right that a Treasury Minister should offer a special deal to a particular group of voters to win them over? Is that not an abuse of office?

If, for example, a Social Security Minister had offered (they didn’t) to bring a proposition for free dental care for over-70s, that would appear to me to also be using their office to their advantage, something which a backbencher or outsider would be unable to do.

It would be an unfair advantage, and one in which the spirit, if not the letter, of the ruling on no propositions after nomination night would be broken. Perhaps in looking at “rules for candidates”, the independent observers would also consider that when preparing a statement as to whether or not the election has been carried out in a free, fair and accurate way!


Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Alphabet for the Scientific Age

From “The Pilot” of May 1964 comes this piece from Catherine Giles, some parts dated, some surprisingly still with us :

Alphabet for the Scientific Age
A is for Atom, which clever men split
For towns to be blasted-or heated, or lit.

B is for Bathoscape, used to observe
The flora and fauna of Neptune's preserve.

C is for Count-down, a term which implies
That someone is shortly to leave for the skies.

D's the Deterrent we keep just in case
Some fool should attempt to blow up the whole race.

E is for Ether, which brings the vibrations
From far-away rockets and radio stations.

F is for Fall-out, the blight which descends
Whenever a nuclear test series ends.

G is for Gravity, always the foe
Of would-be explorers in Space, as they go.

H is for Hovercraft, skimming to port
Without any visible means of support.

I is for Isobars, frequently seen
Adorning the weather charts shown on our screen.

J is for Jet plane, which leaves a white trail,
And deafens us all with its ear-splitting wail.

K is for Khrushchev, whose ultimate dream
Is a Communist World, with his country supreme.

L is for Light-years, a way to denote
The distance of stars which are wildly remote.

M is for Moon, that sweet symbol of change
Long cried for in vain, but at last within range.

N is for Nebulae, rushing through Space
At what seems to us an incredible pace.

O is for Orbit, a satellite’s course,
Maintained and controlled by centrifugal force.

P is for Pill, which we cannot but mention,
Though many still find it a bone of contention.

Q is the question which bothers me still
With so many space-trips- well, who pays the bill?

R is for Radar, the method employed
For tracking strange bodies which roams through the void.

S is for Space-ship, the schoolboy's delight,
Which hurtles to Saturn and back over night.

T is for Telescope, scanning the stars
For objects like visiting saucers from Mars.

U is for Universe: who comprehends
It's purpose, its age and the place where it ends?

V is for Venus, first stop to the Sun.
Some folk may attempt it, but I won't, for one!

W stands for the Weightless condition
Of men on a long interplanetary mission.

X is the quantity always unknown-
The truth that men seek, their philosopher's stone.

Y is for Yuri, the popular ace,
The very first man to be shot into Space.

Z is for Zodiac, sadly outmoded,
Like much that this nuclear age has exploded.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

A Robust Voting System?

In the end, the Senatorial recount only gave rise to a smattering of votes different from the previous occasion. But, by all accounts, this was not so much from the robustness of the voting system, as a result that a lot of the errors (and there were more than the announcement suggested), cancelled each other out.

It would be interesting if they published the revised count by Senator and Parish so that the exact nature of differences could be seen, because of course, while not materially effecting the result, other Senators also had different counts in the end.

If there is enough exactness in the system, then a small percentage of errors will not make a qualitative difference, but understanding how those errors are caused can help make the system more robust in the future.

Apparently, one common error was scanning along a sheet with names at one side, and numbers across, meant that it was easier for the eye to slip from one line to another.

A study by researchers at Rice University showed that hand counting of votes in post-election audit or recount procedures can result in error rates of up to 2 percent.

Michael Byrne, associate professor of psychology at Rice said:

“It is probably impossible to completely eliminate errors in hand counting of ballots. However, there are new auditing methods that capitalize on advanced statistical procedures that can help ensure that final election results better match what is actually on the ballots. It is important that we become aware of the limitations of current methods and develop alternative ways to improve the accuracy of election results.”

For most elections, even a 2 percent error won't change the results, but it can happen.

But the bottom line is that there will always be counting mistakes – but as long as the errors are unsystematic, they will usually cancel each other out. In the aggregate you'll have an estimate quite close to the real result.

So the voting system is not strictly speaking “robust” but “robust enough for practical purposes”.

Monday, 27 October 2014

What I’ve been watching on TV

Dr Who

I’ve found this a bit of a mixed bag.

The opening episode, “Deep Breath” with a throwaway dinosaur, was something of mishmash, and rather a wasted opportunity. It was nice to see Matt Smith, but risky, as the familiar and charming only accentuated the rather spiky Capaldi Doctor.

“Into the Dalek” was a different take, and clearly showed the roots (even with a mention) of the TV movie Fantastic Voyage; it was nevertheless rather fun. What happened to the Dalek’s protective force fields, by the way? Present in the Russell T Davies era, they seemed to have gone.

“Robot of Sherwood” was typical Mark Gatiss, pressing the comedy as far as the drama would allow, and if you enjoy that (and I did) a rather good romp. Gatiss also has an excellent ear for dialogue, and this was sparkling.

“Listen” was rather more of a sequence of sketches than anything concrete, though the unseen figure under the blanket on the bed was extremely scary, an excellent example of how to use imagination to terrify. The part of the Doctor’s early childhood (if that is what it was) seemed a bit out of sorts with the established continuity; it will be interesting to see if more is made of that.

“Time Heist” by the same author was an enjoyable run-around, a timey-wimey story, but with rather a good alien monster, and an enjoyable pace. 

“The Caretaker” was enjoyable, but slight. 

“Kill the Moon” had a wonderful lunar landscape (Lanzarote, with CGI colour changing), scary spider like monsters, but a denouement whose science just defied description. I really didn’t like the ending, which seemed rather unconvincing. The abortion subtext was also pretty obvious.

But “Mummy on the Orient Express” and “Flatline”, again two by one author, were classic Doctor Who, perfectly structured, brim full of ideas, characters, and pace and plots which actually made sense.

“In the Forest of the Night” took the bold step of telling a very different story, with a strong ecology message, but again some rather bad science surfaced – how were people using mobiles when the solar flare would have wiped out the satellites?

I rather like this clerical sleuth, and the two leads, James Norton and Robson Green are excellent, and it has a good supporting cast.

As I don’t like missing “New Tricks”, I record that at 9, and use ITV +1 for Grantchester, so I can have a double dose of murder.

One of the features I like especially is the sermon which ends each episode, and here are two of them. They are mini-sermons, but they draw upon the storyline of the episode and provide a neat and rather different way of concluding the story.

Sermon by Reverend Sidney Chambers
We cannot erase our pasts, however hard we try.

Instead we must carry them with us into the future. We must carry them with us and look forward with hope. We must look forward, because to look back is to waste precious time.

Someone recently said to me, "We should live as we have never lived."

And we must all of us take heed and live as we have never lived.

For we are all mortal.

We are all fragile.

And we all live under the shadow of death.

Sermon by the Curate, Leonard Finch
Kant once wrote -"By a lie, a man annihilates his dignity as a man."

Our good friend Immanuel wasn't one to mince his words. He saw things in black and white. He didn't dwell on the grey areas.

But who amongst us can honestly say that we haven't lied for good reason? Who amongst us can say we live a truly good life?

And that's not to say we shouldn't try. We should all continually try to be the best we can be.

To escape the sins of our past..... to be accepting of our little foibles... and of others.

We can't run away from who we are.

We must turn and face the truth head on.

Sometimes in life... it's better just to... get on with things.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Individual Cases

The Lord told them this parable.

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and not waste time finding the lost sheep? And when he forgets all about it, he joyfully and goes home, for it is his time to rest, not seek lost sheep. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; for I have learnt not to talk of individual cases of lost sheep’

How often do we find a politician confronted with the case of someone, often quite despairing of anything being done, trying to bring a case to their attention? This could be a case of carers not receiving enough respite help, feeling their family, and perhaps their marriage is stretched to breaking point. Or someone with mental health problems, feeling suicidal, who has been told they have to wait for 6 months before they can be seen? And there are plenty of other cases like these.

The stock response by the politician is “I can’t comment on individual cases”. Now I can understand that when someone wishes their problems to remain silent. But in these cases, as a final action to try and elicite a response, in sheer desperation, these people have gone public.

It is true that departments and politicians deal with many cases, but many cases come from many individual circumstances, and to use this phrase as an excuse, very often for doing nothing, is not good for politics. Even to say that they will look into it is better than nothing - as long as they do, and that is not another excuse for inaction.

Obviously, it cannot be fair for people to complain and then jump the queue for services. But it has to be asked what has gone wrong, especially if the queue is really so long that before they reach that point, marriages may break down, people may commit suicide etc.

In science, the individual case which contradicts a known theory is not in itself significant because it needs to be confirmed by other examples and replicated. But scientists look to see if that can be done. They don’t simply look the other way, and ignore the problem, or if they do, they are poor scientists.

In the same way, individual cases are a wake up call to politicians that something may be seriously wrong. They need to check to see if this case is a one-off which somehow slipped by the system, a lost sheep, which can and should be put to rights, or whether the whole flock is in difficulties, and that must be addressed. What they mustn’t do is be evasive and prevaricate, because that way they will lose the trust of the public.

“I can’t comment on individual cases”. Perhaps politicians should remember that politics is about people, and individual people matter, and that they should not hide behind well-worn clichés.

Saturday, 25 October 2014


After the general election here, a slight poem about outcomes, and why, in the end, whatever the complaints, democracy is still better than alternatives.

To the victor the spoils, to the loser, upset
And however hard the striving, there is pain
All that wasted energy, all the toil and sweat
And for what? Despondency is all the gain.
That's how elections work, so spare a thought
For those not elected, those losing their seat
An ending at the ballot box, the battle fought
Counting the numbers slowly to defeat
Knights in a tournament, the clash of arms
That was the way to do things! Lively times
But wounded, the defeated, lessens charms
Governance settled with butchery and crimes
Aftermath in democracy may seem more dull
But better than one cracking another's skull

Friday, 24 October 2014

Odds and Evens

On October 3rd, the JEP published bookmakers odds given by CB Sports, in which the core statement was that “Sir Philip Bailhach is currently ‘hot’ favourite to top the Island-wide vote”. Well, he wasn’t! Here’s a look at those odds, and how they actually worked out.

In general, intelligent guesswork would have probably yielded as good result. In some cases, probably better. I would have always assumed Judy Martin would top her poll, but the bookmaker put her third.

Clearly CB Sports has a long way to go before they reach the accuracy of “Honest Nev”!

Senators:2/9 - Sir Philip Bailhache – IN BUT WRONG PLACE
5/2 - Ian Gorst - IN BUT WRONG PLACE
9/2 - Paul Routier - IN BUT WRONG PLACE
9/2 - Sarah Ferguson – WRONG, VOTE OUT
5/1 - Andrew Green - IN BUT WRONG PLACE
8/1 - Lyndon Farnham - RIGHT
8/1 - John Young – WRONG, VOTED OUT
9/1 - Philip Ozouf – WRONG, VOTED IN
10/1 - Sean Power
12/1 - Alan Maclean – WRONG, VOTED IN
20/1 - Zoe Cameron = WRONG, VOTED IN
25/1 - Malcolm Ferey
33/1 - Geoff Habin
80/1 - Guy de Faye
200/1 - Anne Southern
500/1 - Konrad Kruszyski
500/1 - Chris Magee
500/1 - David Richardson
1/5 odds - each way (1,2,3)

The odds for Senators were way out, and even if you consider “in but wrong place”, are still very poor.

Of those getting in:
5 out of 8 were right, but in the wrong place. Only 1 was right, and in the right place.

St Saviour No 1:4/7 - Peter McLinton, RIGHT BUT WRONG PLACE
6/4 - Rob Duhamel - WRONG

5/2 - Jeremy Macon – WRONG

It was Rob Duhamel, not Jeremy Macon who lost his seat.

St Saviour No 2:2/7 - Kevin Lewis - RIGHT
6/4 - Louise Doublet - RIGHT

6/1 - Maureen Morgan - RIGHT

This one was spot on.

Trinity:4/6 - Anne Pryke - RIGHT

Evens - Hugh Raymond - RIGHT

Guess work would have given a similar result.

St Peter:1/80 - Kristina Moore - RIGHT

25/1 - Debbie Hardisty - RIGHT

This was spot on, but blindingly obvious.

St Helier No 3 and 4:
11/10 - Mike Higgins – IN BUT WRONG PLACE
11/10 - Jackie Hilton – IN BUT WRONG PLACE
9/4 - Richard Rondel - IN BUT WRONG PLACE
5/2 - Christian May - WRONG

5/1 - Andrew Lewis – WRONG
6/1 - Ted Vibert
8/1 - Mary Osmond
10/1 - Laura Millen
12/1 - Mary Ayling-Phillips
16/1 - John Ttokkallos

It was Andrew Lewis who crept in to the last seat, not Christian May.

St Mary:10/11 - David Johnson

10/11 - Mark Evans


St Brelade No 1:
2/11 - Mike Jackson - WRONG

5/2 - Murray Norton - WRONG
8/1 - Angela Jeune - RIGHT

Murray got in, but my guesses were that it was close. The only certainty was Angela Jeune being last, and guesswork suggested that was very likely.

St Brelade No 2:
4/6 - Montfort Tadier – IN BUT WRONG PLACE
3/1 - Natalie Duffy - RIGHT
9/2 - Graham Truscott – WRONG, GOT IN
9/2 - Jane Blakeley – WRONG, CAME LAST
8/1 - Jeff Hathaway – WRONG, CAME FOURTH
10/1 Beatriz Porée – WRONG PLACE

Graham Truscott zoomed in, while Montfort came second (and lost voter share). Peter Troy was way down below Jeff Hathaway, and Jane Blakely was bottom. This bookmaker odds could not have been more wrong.

St Clement:2/7 - Susie Pinel - RIGHT
7/4 - Gerard Baudains - WRONG
3/1 - Simon Brée - WRONG
8/1 - Darius Pearce - RIGHT

Simon Bree was the man coming in; Gerard Baudains out again.

St Helier No 1:11/10 - Scott Wickenden – RIGHT BUT WRONG PLACE
11/10 - Russell Labey - RIGHT
9/4 - Judy Martin – RIGHT BUT WRONG PLACE

7/2 - Nick Le Cornu – LOST BUT WRONG PLACE
5/1 - Shannen Kerrigan – LOST BUT WRONG PLACE
20/1 - Gino Risoli - RIGHT

Judy Martin romped home, and Scott was the last to get in. Of those losing, Nick Le Cornu did worse that the odds.

St Helier No 2:10/11 - Rod Bryans - RIGHT
Evens - Sam Mézec - RIGHT
3/1 - Geoff Southern - RIGHT

6/1 - Bernie Manning - RIGHT
6/1 - Martin Greene - RIGHT

This was extraordinary in that it was all correct, even the order.

St Ouen:
1/2 - Richard Renouf - RIGHT

7/4 - Chris Lamy - RIGHT

This was also right, but a foregone conclusion.

St Mary:Evens - Juliette Gallichan - RIGHT

10/1 - John Le Bailly – RIGHT

This was what guesswork suggested, a close call.

The Parable of the King’s Feast

The lesson last Sunday was from Matthew’s Gospel, the Parable of the Great Banquet, and here is a modern take upon it. Parables often make points sharply, and this one inverts the story told in Matthew’s gospel to do so.

The Parable of the King’s Feast

The Lord spoke to them in parables saying:

A certain king was holding a feast, and sent out all his servants to call those were invited to the feast, and many of those called chose to attend.

They made light of the invitation, and said to each other, “Here is food in plenty, and much to eat, and we shall dine and banquet and eat and drink and make merry”.

And so they said they would attend the banquet, and the servant reported to his master, “What you have ordered has been done, and there is no more room at the feast”

And the King went on his way to the banquet, and those who had been invited came also, dressed in fine raiment.

And on their way, they went through the streets and alleys of the town and passed by the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.

And the feast was filled with guests, and those who came to petition the King were left at the gates, and the doors were closed against them.

And they remained in the outer darkness, weeping and grinding their teeth,

For few are called, but many are not chosen.