Supporting and enhancing the UK’s voter registration service
Provide comprehensive support for the UK’s Register to vote service, to ensure 99.999% availability, and exceptional performance under unpredictable loads. In parallel, deliver a series of enhancements to cut costs and improve efficiency.
Being able to vote in elections is one of our most fundamental democratic rights. And the legitimacy of UK elections depends on everyone who is entitled to take part, being able to. The government’s Register to vote service is how most people sign up. The service was originally developed and launched in the Cabinet Office in 2014. More recently, after a ministerial change in 2021, all election functions (including the service) were moved over to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) in December 2021.
Softwire previously modernised and replatformed the Register to vote service, which went live in 2020.
The DLUHC needed a support partner to ensure this essential service maintained 99.999% uptime and robust security. Exceptional performance was also essential, even under the often-unpredictable surges in demand during election periods, when daily applications can reach 40x their usual number.
In addition, DLUHC wanted to make various enhancements to reduce costs, boost efficiency and improve user experiences. These included:
- Removing the need for local authorities (LAs) to use the Public Services Network (PSN) when accessing the Register to vote service, as they must do periodically. This would save DLUHC money and support LAs’ wider journeys away from PSN usage
- Automating resource-intensive manual processes
- Building a new external performance dashboard for the service, to replace the centralised Government Digital Service (GDS) dashboard, which was being retired. This dashboard is used extensively by policymakers, the Electoral Commission, journalists and others, to obtain insights about voter registrations
- Creating a more-sophisticated internal insights dashboard, to enable DLUHC to respond to the more detailed queries they sometimes receive, which can’t be answered using the public dashboard
As well as providing 24×7 support, with additional hyper-care during peak periods, we’ve delivered numerous enhancements to the Register to vote service, including brand-new external- and internal-facing insight dashboards.
Our comprehensive support for the Register to vote service includes monitoring, automated vulnerability testing using our proprietary tooling, periodic patching, a variety of security and load testing, and regular reporting to DLUHC. We also have a team on call 24×7 to respond to priority-one incidents.
Enhanced support during peak periods
In the run-up to elections, there’s a significant uptick in people using the service. For additional assurance, we provide hyper-care during this critical period. This includes enhanced monitoring and reporting, rehearsing contingency plans with all stakeholders, and proactively liaising with AWS, the service’s cloud provider, to put in place additional safeguards.
Traffic typically peaks on registration deadline day, when media interest in the service is also high. We set up a virtual control room, bringing together key stakeholders from DLUHC, GDS, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), AWS and Softwire, to proactively monitor service usage and be on-hand to intervene if necessary.
Improving the service
Alongside the day-to-day support, we’ve delivered numerous enhancements to the Register to vote service.
We designed and developed a new API that enables LAs to securely connect without needing the PSN. This was independently validated by DLUHC and the NCSC, as well as being penetration-tested.
We automated significant parts of the annual canvass process, which sees all LAs verify their electoral registers verified with the government. To reduce the administrative burden for DLUHC and LAs, we created self-service tooling to enable LAs to upload their data, and automated many of the communications between DLUHC and LAs.
Elsewhere, we designed and built a new public performance dashboard for the service, rolling this out within weeks of the GDS one being retired. We also built a more sophisticated internal insights dashboard for the DLUHC team.
We’ve made optimisations to save money, such as using AWS Reserved Instances where appropriate. And we’ve improved the user experience to enhance data quality and present more-tailored information to people registering, based on their specific circumstances.
Since we took on support, there has been zero unplanned public-facing downtime and zero P1 incidents. We’ve also helped deliver hundreds of thousands of pounds in cost savings, and built insight dashboards that are supporting more-informed government decision-making.
Zero public-facing downtime, zero P1 incidents
Our comprehensive support for the UK’s Register to vote service means there has never been a priority-one incident, nor unplanned public-facing downtime in the 2+ years since we launched the modernised service.
100% uptime during peak periods
The service has also performed flawlessly during the peaks ahead of both the 2021 and 2022 elections. Uptime during these periods has been 100%, with no active interventions required, even under maximum loads on deadline days. Moreover, the way we architected the service to scale automatically, means everyone using it enjoys typical server response times of less than 50ms.
Cost savings and new capabilities
Elsewhere, our new LA connectivity solution means the Register to vote service no longer needs to maintain a dedicated PSN link. As well as resulting in hosting savings of £150K+ per year, this has made the service more robust, by reducing dependencies. It’s also helped LAs progress with their plans to exit the PSN.
Our recommendation to use AWS Reserved Instances has further reduced infrastructure costs. This has contributed to an overall annual hosting saving of 70% since the service went live in AWS – exceeding the government’s initial forecast of 55%.
Meanwhile, our rapid delivery of the new performance dashboard meant the Register to vote service became the first government service to have its own dashboard. As well as being praised by GDS, the dashboard ensured the many external users could continue to answer their questions on a self-service basis.
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