Election Universe

Is e-voting returning to Ireland?

Is e-voting returning to Ireland?
May 30 2014, 16:14

Not long ago, Ireland dumped its 7,500 voting machines in one of the most notorious scandals in the election automation industry. The technology, introduced in 2002 on a trial basis, had only been used in three occasions when news stating that the equipment was faulty emerged.

The Irish voting system, developed by Nedap, could not guarantee to be safe from tampering, and worst of all, the machines did not provide a physical voucher of the vote, so there was no way for voters to corroborate that their selection had been registered correctly. The lack of a voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) also made it almost impossible to conduct reliable post electoral audits.

So, when authorities officially halted the automation project in 2009, the initial investment of €51 million, and its subsequent €4 million in storage fees, went down the drain. In 2012, Ireland sold the EVMs to a recycling company at €9 each in a much publicized event.

But it turns out that two years later problems with Ireland’s voting system persist, and this time around voting machines cannot be blamed. Politicians, experts, among others are beginning to dwell on the possibility of using technology again.

On Friday, 23 May 2014, Ireland held three elections: the European Parliament, local elections (thirty-four local authorities) and two by-elections (Dublin West and Longford–Westmeath). Results publishing, originally planned to occur after vote counting would take place on the 25th, was delayed due to problems with manual counting. By Wednesday 28, Ireland was behind the rest of EU in announcing results.

Fianna Fáil Seanad leader Darragh O’Brien said finishing counting on Tuesday morning, 76 hours late, was unacceptable. “That we are the last country in Europe that is still counting votes and trying to fill seats in the European Parliament, which is a very important parliament, shows the system is not fit for purpose. Far be it from me to speak about electronic voting – I am not going there.” He called for Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan to begin a discussion on how to improve elections in Ireland.

Other voices have joined the chorus calling for electoral reform. Labour Seanad leader Ivana Bacik agreed that the way the counts played out had again shown the need for an electoral system.

Children’s Minister Charlie Flanagan declared “Counting taking far too long. Electronic voting must be returned to the political agenda,”.

So, as Ireland ponders what to do next, it could well look up to Estonia as an example of how to successfully improve election administration without compromising integrity or hurting public coffers. During these same elections, Estonia carried its 7th national election giving the voters the chance to cast a ballot using the traditional paper and pencil, or to vote online. Online remote voting is gaining steam in this nation as it has proven reliable and convenient.

Image courtesy of Haydn West/PA Archive