Crash is the latest chapter in ‘sad tale of government, the public sector and IT’ say MPs
Last Tuesday night at about 9pm, in the run-up to a midnight deadline for registration to vote in the referendum on Britain’s exit from the EU, the system came under unprecedented demand and then crashed at about 10pm, the government said in a debate following the incident. As a result the government was forced to extend the deadline by 48 hours.
“The sad tale of government, the public sector and IT continues,” said Conservative MP Liam Fox. “This is yet another chapter in it.”
In answer to a query as to whether any malicious attack was involved in the crash, Oliver Letwin, minister for government policy at the Cabinet Office, said there was “no untoward event whatsoever” and that it was simply a case of insufficient capacity.
“The system is designed to be scoped to deal with a certain number of simultaneous events, and that number was exceeded during that period, so in retrospect, it was not surprising that it fell over,” he said.
The system received more than 200,000 requests in the hour before the crash, he said, adding that the surge was three times greater than had ever been previously experienced, for instance during the run-up to the General Election.
The system has now been given twice the capacity that it had previously in order to deal with further surges, Letwin said.
This response wasn’t well-received by some critics, who questioned the government’s preparedness for the registration deadline.
“I am very surprised that it crashed, so I would like to know one or two things,” said Fox. “Why did the Electoral Commission not make sufficient arrangements to determine whether its system could cope with the demand? How do we know that it will not happen again?”
Letwin replied that a “massive amount” of load testing was carried out but that “the system was tested with the assumption that we would not face anything like the extent of the difference between what had been experienced previously—for example, at the General Election—and now. This spike was three times as intense as the one that occurred before the General Election.”
Matt Warman MP urged the government to draw on the experience and to take the opportunity to press ahead with trials into online voting, which he described as “inevitable”, in order to make sure that the process would be as robust as possible.
“Given the experience of the past 24 to 48 hours, let us bear in mind that if we get things wrong, we risk not only further undermining people’s faith in democracy, but putting ourselves in a position where even fewer people than now would vote, and that would be bad for all of us,” Warman said
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