The election QR code that lacks imagination


Much of the UK went to the polls today in a mix of national and local elections. Elections for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly are being held, as are polls in 279 English councils.

And there is the national referendum on the so-called Alternative Vote system where voters will decide on how MPs are elected to the House of Commons.

As I write this, the polls are still open for another 45 minutes, until 10pm: we should know how everything stands during tomorrow Friday.

My wife and I voted this morning. When we arrived at the polling station, I was curious to see the list of candidates competing for election to our local council pinned to the wall in the entrance which included a QR code.

What happens when you scan that code with an app on your mobile device? I wondered. So I did using the Barcode Scanner app for Android on my HTC Desire smartphone.


This is the result. The next step depends on which of the three buttons you tap on your phone’s screen: Web search, Share via email or Share via SMS. Here’s what happens when you tap ‘Web search’:


I then sent myself an email to see the result of tapping the ‘Share via email’ button:


What a disappointment! I wasn’t sure what to expect from scanning and tapping but it certainly was something more imaginative than all of this.

Biographies of the candidates standing for election in my constituency, perhaps. Maybe with a concise statement of what they propose to do if elected. Perhaps a brief  audio or video message. All sharable. Or maybe a useful summary of everything about today on Wokingham Borough Council’s website.

All designed for display and use on a mobile device. After all, why have a QR code designed for use on a mobile device if you don’t make its use actually compelling? Or is there some electoral rule or regulation that prohibits the application of some imagination to digital communication?

I really would love to know what the goal was in including the QR code this way if the results were actually of very little use.

Did you see some imagination with QR codes in your constituency?

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Stuart Bruce

    Neville the simple answer is yes most of your ideas probably are against the rules. Your best idea – the statement, audio and video would all be seen as politics being paid for by the taxpayer so would definitely be out. The description of what the day is about would also have to be extraordinarily bland in order to fall within the rules.

    • neville

      Thanks Stuart. In which case, I do wonder what the point was in using a QR code at all.

      Seems to me the rules are more suited for a bygone age than contemporary society (we’re not alone: thinking about recent Canadian election where talking about results on social media channels prohibited by law).

  2. Victoria Newlands

    Neville, totally agree with the QR use: when I was faced with a list of names and a prompt saying ‘pick no more than six’ a QR code for each leading through to a mini biog would have been extremely useful

    My experience at the polling station yesterday was not inspiring – I always go to vote when given the opportunity, but I left feeling as if there had been no thought behind the process

    The organisers and people involved need to step in to the electorate’s shoes…what information do we need, where do we seek it and how do we digest it?

    • neville

      Providing voters with more information at the point of sale (as it were) is surely a good thing. But as Stuart noted in his comment, we have a regulatory framework that need to evolve first.

  3. Bryan Person

    Neville: This reminds me of a city on the outskirts of Austin that had big, honkin’ QR codes all around, but that when scanned, directed you to mobile pages that were NOT mobile friendly!

    There are obviously still some missing pieces in the end-to-end execution of QR codes. I think the kinks will get ironed out eventually, but for now, it’s often still rough around the edges.

    • neville

      Agree with you, Bryan, re rough around the edges. Lots of experimentation going on, which is great. But in this case, it’s the imagination that’s lacking which is a great pity. If there was some way to provide feedback to the creator of the QR code implementation, that would definitely have been good, but there is none.

      Wasted opportunity, it seems to me.

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