Modernising the voter registration service to support UK democracy
Modernise the UK’s Register to vote service, to provide exceptional levels of uptime and performance, even under significant and unpredictable demand surges.
The UK government’s Register to vote service enables individuals to get on the electoral register, so they can vote in elections and referendums. It also enables them to update their details online. Once someone submits their information, it goes through an ID-verification process, and is then retrieved by their local council to be added to the electoral register.
The service generally sees a steady pattern of daily usage, but can experience very significant spikes. During an election period, for example, demand surges can be as much as 40x the normal number of daily applications. Other demand-spikes are harder to foresee, such as those triggered by celebrities and campaigns on social media encouraging people to register to vote.
The Cabinet Office, which runs the Register to vote service, wanted to modernise it, to ensure it could meet this increasingly unpredictable demand, while maintaining high levels of uptime and fast page-load times. The modernization also needed to reduce hosting costs, and deliver exceptional levels of security.
To meet these goals, the Cabinet Office planned to move the service to AWS, which would require key elements to be redesigned to benefit from cloud capabilities.
We rebuilt the Register to vote service to leverage the scalability of AWS, while working closely with GDS and the NCSC to safeguard against cyberthreats.
Migrating the Register to vote service to AWS firstly required changes to the website that individuals access. To make the process of scaling the service as simple and robust as possible, we rewrote the front end to be serverless, using AWS Lambda. We also updated the look-and-feel to align with the new Government Digital Service (GDS) design system and meet the latest WCAG accessibility guidelines.
Behind the scenes, we used as much existing code as possible, making only minor changes to benefit from AWS capabilities. We also improved the administration portal used by Cabinet Office teams to run the service, to streamline operational processes.
With security high on the agenda, our staff worked closely with the GDS cybersecurity team and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) to safeguard the service and its data. This included independent penetration tests.
To prove the service would remain available and performant, even under very significant demand, we ran rigorous, automated load tests.
The Register to vote service is now live in the cloud, ready to support UK democracy for the 2021 elections and beyond. Hosting costs have been reduced, performance enhanced and AAA accessibility achieved.
The modernised Register to vote service is now live in AWS, capable of scaling very large, very quickly, to meet both the gradual and sudden demand spikes it will face.
Performance under high loads has been improved, while hosting costs have been significantly reduced, with the Cabinet Office only paying for the resources it consumes.
The user interface design has been brought in line with the rest of Gov.uk. And importantly, for a service aimed at the entire voting-age population, plus ‘attainers’ who will soon be eligible to take part in elections, the Register to vote service has achieved stringent WCAG level AAA accessibility conformance.
Softwire’s support team is now monitoring and maintaining the service, backed by a service level agreement.