[EM] Issues about "personal data" in releasing results of ballots

Diana Galletly dag1000 at eng.cam.ac.uk
Thu Nov 20 00:24:15 PST 2003

I think I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was trying to get
the data for 6 ballots that were held here in Cambridge to
decide some issues.  The counts were conducted using IRV and
published in the normal form for such counts.

I received a reply from the administration yesterday informing
me that they couldn't release any voting data beyond that
already published as to do so would breach the secrecy of the

As I had said in my letter that I wasn't asking for physical
access to the data, but merely for a list of how many people
completed their ballot papers in each way this seemed somewhat

However I've since had a response from a member of the
academic-related staff here at Cambridge saying that the admin
people did the correct thing and that giving me the data in
the form I asked for would be to a certain extent breaching the
secrecy of the ballot.

I do not see how raw numbers can be breaching anyone's secrecy.
Someone else came up with an argument along the lines that if
I knew that Fred Bloggs had voted A first, then B then X and
there was only one person so doing then I would be able to determine
the rest of Fred Bloggs' preferences.  Quite frankly if Fred Bloggs
has told me that he voted ABX then I don't think he'd be in that
much of a position to complain about the secrecy of the ballot being

But as it happens I do not know how a single voter voted in this
election (I was not eligible to take part) and nor do I wish to.
I want the raw data so I can do some analysis.  Am I way off base
here and if so in what form ought I to be asking for the data such
that no-one's privacy gets breached?  I'd prefer the data in the
form I requested, but as I'm particularly hoping to compare Condorcet
methods with IRV here a pairwise matrix would suffice -- but I don't
think I could trust the central administration to draw such up!  Which
is why I asked for what I thought the most foolproof way of presenting
the data.

C'est la vie ...


More information about the Election-Methods mailing list