The government has admitted that the failure of the register to vote website to cope with last-minute demand was "no surprise", raising the heckles of MPs who said that better planning would have kept the site up and running.
Problems occurred last week when over 200,000 people attempted to register for the EU referendum in the run-up to midnight. The failure of the site forced the government to extend registration for two days.
Oliver Letwin, minister for government policy at the Cabinet Office, said in a post-incident debate that the downtime was caused by unprecedented demand.
“I am not a technical expert on computing, but I am advised by those in the Cabinet Office and the Government Digital Service that, as far as they can make out, there was no untoward event whatsoever,” he said.
“There was simply an incapacity of the system to handle that number of applications. The system is designed to be scoped to deal with a certain number of simultaneous events, and that number was exceeded during that period, so in retrospect, it was not surprising that it fell over.”
Letwin added that the capacity of the website has been doubled since the incident to “deal with a higher number of simultaneous events than previously”.
This failed to garner much sympathy from MPs. Liam Fox called it just another chapter in the “sad tale of government, the public sector and IT”.
“I am very surprised that it crashed, so I would like to know one or two things. First, how much load testing was done? Why did the Electoral Commission not make sufficient arrangements to determine whether its system could cope with the demand?" Fox added.
Letwin suggested in response that the demand was far higher than anything before and that the department was caught off-guard.
“A massive amount of load testing was done, and the system was tested with the assumption that we would not face anything like the extent of the difference between what had been experienced previously, for example at the General Election, and now,” he said.
“This spike was three times as intense as the one that occurred before the General Election.”
Meanwhile, Matt Warman MP said that the government should use the incident to make sure that the "inevitable" move to online voting is given the necessary time and attention to avoid any similar failings.
"Given the experience of the past 24 to 48 hours, let us bear in mind that if we get things wrong, we risk not only further undermining people’s faith in democracy, but putting ourselves in a position where even fewer people than now would vote, and that would be bad for all of us," he warned.
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