London: e-Counting delivers fast, accurate elections

Electronic vote counting helps Greater London Authority process 7.9 million hand-marked paper ballots

There were sunshine and showers on 6 May 2021 when people from 32 London boroughs cast 10.6 million votes in the local and mayoral elections. Behind the scenes, authorities were prepared to manage the electronic count of the votes in one of the most complex local election in the United Kingdom.


Back in 2019 the Greater London Authority (GLA) appointed CGI, supported by Smartmatic, to manage the entire vote-counting process, including setting up the three count centres, managing London Borough staff training, and secure vote counting.

Having already supported the successful delivery of the Scottish local elections in 2012 and 2017, CGI had the proven project-management expertise to navigate large-scale elections. As a world leader in the development and implementation of election technology and services, Smartmatic provided the expertise behind the electronic counting solution.

Responsive to change

Preparations for the election were proceeding exactly according to plan when, in March 2020, it was announced that the elections scheduled for May would be postponed, provisionally, by a year due to the ongoing situation with Covid-19.

When the new date in 2021 was confirmed, fundamental changes were made to accommodate Covid-19 safety protocols. The counting process was extended from a one-day to a two-day count, social distancing measures were established at the count centres and training was moved online.

Working in partnership with technology provider Hamilton Rentals, three count centres in greater London (Alexandra Palace, Olympia and Excel) were kitted out with the scanners, computers and technical infrastructure required to process the many thousands of in-person and postal votes expected.

Additional online training was delivered by CGI over a two-month period for the 1,000 borough council employees who had already been trained in-person prior to the elections being rescheduled.

From installing floor markings and one-way process flows, to ensuring the installation of plexiglass screens and peripherals within the three venues, CGI managed every aspect of the rescheduled election count to ensure the democratic process could continue, securely, efficiently and safely.

Scope and Scale

Approximately 10.6 million votes were counted as the Mayoral election used preferential voting and each voter selected two options. The GLA had to employ three different counting systems: first-past-the-post, a supplementary vote system, and a form of proportional representation. The electronic count was validated by the Constituency Returning Officer and the Greater London Returning Officer.

2021 London elections in numbers:

  • 17.2 million ballot papers printed
  • Over 7.9 million ballot papers processed
  • Over 10.6 million votes counted
  • 42% turnout

e-counting technology solution

The e-counting solution deployed by CGI and Smartmatic ensured ballot papers were scanned and processed quickly and accurately, with full auditability of results.

Key benefits:

  • More accurate vote counting solution
  • Increased transparency and integrity
  • Reduced manual handling of ballots
  • Highly secure election data
  • Rigorous cyber security measures
  • Full paper audit trail
  • Rapid response to changing election requirement

As CGI partners, Smartmatic provided:

  • 234 optical scanners to process the ballot papers in three count venues
  • 17.2 million printed postal and polling station ballot papers
  • 12,000 disposable ballot boxes
  • Software for the electronic counting solution
  • Support to the three count venues and the central consolidation site during the live counts