As councils were forced to work remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, central government gave councils the ability to host formal council meetings fully remote. This has unlocked a new landscape for councils to engage with citizens and ensure decision making continues unhindered.
A recurring issue for councils is around making voting efficient, accurate and quick as the most popular practice to take votes is by roll call to ensure all councillors present have their voices heard and the democratic services team can record voting patterns. It often ensures accuracy but consumes a large portion of the meeting time.
Newcastle City Council has delivered over 40 meetings remotely, running a full council meeting that had 73 of the 74 councillors in attendance on 24 June. It has required IT support and training for councillors to ensure they are getting the most optimum experience at the meetings.
The council is leading in the remote voting area of work. Since May 2019 the council has been using it in house mobile voting system (GoVote) for all votes in the Council Chamber. The system allows members to vote using their own personal mobile device (mobile phone, tablet, laptop) through a secure website. With the introduction of remote meetings, the system has allowed councillors to record votes from whichever location they are based. Admins can trigger polls on demand from the admin screen for any given subject. Vote results can be displayed on a results screen mapped to a room layout in real-time. Votes can be analysed after the session in Power BI.
The system has full IT support to ensure technical experts are on hand to help councillors work through the voting tool.
Each councillor has a unique ID and password attributed to them with users needing to be authenticated and checked in to be able to vote. The user interface which is controlled by the lead democratic services officer allows the team to track how votes are being cast with a Red (No), Yellow (Abstain) Green (Yes) system which is mapped out on the council chamber seating plan. This comprehensive view allows the officers to track who is online at any one time and who has voted in an easy detailed layout.
The council has developed this voting web app in house and is maintained by the IT team to run in Azure, using Azure B2C to authenticate users. The council has now made this available open source on GitHub.
The council is now looking into further integration with the Microsoft Office Suite and how it could work with the Teams software for even more convenient voting during meetings through the video conferencing portal.
Service Manager Democratic Services