[E-voting] [cathy_flanagan@labour.ie: Second Stage D?il Debate Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2004]

Margaret McGaley Margaret.McGaley at redbrick.dcu.ie
Wed Mar 31 12:54:29 IST 2004

----- Forwarded message from Cathy Flanagan <cathy_flanagan at labour.ie> -----

From: "Cathy Flanagan" <cathy_flanagan at labour.ie>
To: <Margaret.McGaley at redbrick.dcu.ie>
Date: Wed, 31 Mar 2004 12:22:35 +0100
Subject: Second Stage Dáil Debate Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2004



                          Wednesday, March 31st 2004.

            Second Stage Dáil Debate Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2004






Why is Fianna Fáil so determined to bring in Electronic Voting?


Why  is  Minister  Cullen almost obsessed with implementing Electronic voting at the Local and European Elections on June 11th?


Why has Electronic Voting become such a top priority for this Government?


Why  is  the  rest  of  this  week?s entire Dáil time given over to this Bill on Electronic  Voting  ?  ahead  of, for example ? the Disability Bill; the Bill to reform  and  modernise  the  Garda  Síochána;  overdue  legislation  on Criminal Justice;  Employment  Permits;  Motor  Insurance; Health and Safety at Work ? in fact  a  total  of almost 150 pieces of legislation, which have been promised at some  stage  or other to deal with the real concerns of the people who have sent us here?


Why  is  Electronic  Voting  the  top priority for the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government ? claiming two successive days this week of scarce Dáil  time, jumping ahead of the Report Stage of the Residential Tenancies Bill, for  which the 150,000 tenants in this country have been waiting now, for nearly 4 years.


It  may  of  course be that giving legal rights of tenants is not a priority for this  Landlord?s  Government  who  are  more  interested  in supporting property investors than in meeting the housing needs of the poor.


But why has the Electronic Voting Bill assumed such urgency that it has upstaged the promised legislation to allow for the completion of the M50 at Carrickmines, the delay on which is reportedly costing the taxpayer €1/4 M per week?


Why  is  a  Bill  to  change  the  way we vote, the Government?s top legislative priority  today,  brought  forward  before the Strategic National Infrastructure Bill  which  the  Taoiseach  told  the Fianna Fáil Conference last September was urgently  needed  to  fast-track  the  infrastructure  needed  to  underpin  the country?s economic well-being?


Why  is  the  Minister  giving  so  much of his time and effort to changing what happens  in  polling  stations,  when  he could be changing the way we deal with illegal dumping, with our poor water quality or with the housing crisis?


What  has  happened to the Water Services Bill, which we were told was needed to comply  with EU Law on the environment, a bill which was published last December and  which  has yet to get an airing in the House? Why has that Bill, which will affect  every  household  in  the  country  been  moved  out  of the way for the Electronic Voting Bill?


Why  of  all the reforms needed to our Electoral Law, is priority being given to Electronic   Voting? What  has  happened  to the  promised  legislation  on  the implications  of the Kelly Judgement? And would we not be better off considering how to improve the dilapidated state of the Electoral Register?


Why  at a time when most people in this country can not post a letter, or get it delivered,  is this Government insisting that the most pressing business for the National  Parliament,  is  to  change  the  way elections are conducted, so that Electronic Voting can be in place by June 11th.


Why  is the Government now unilaterally forcing the implementation of Electronic Voting, when it had initially promised to implement it by agreement?


The  Labour Party opposed the Electoral Act 2001, which permits the introduction

of  Electronic  Voting.   I  am  on record at the Dáil Debates on the 2001 Bill,

urging  a  cautious  approach to any switch over to Electronic Voting.  The then Minister  of  State,  Robert Molloy, assured both Houses, that Electronic Voting would only be implemented by agreement with the political parties.


I  was surprised therefore, that the Government decided, following the trials at the  2002 General Election and the second Nice Referendum to switch over totally to Electronic Voting for all elections in all constituencies.  That decision was made without discussion or consultation with Opposition parties.


I  was even more surprised that when last Autumn, when Labour, Fine Gael and the Green  Party  all  expressed  serious  concerns  about  the plans for Electronic

Voting,  these  concerns  were  ignored.   Was  I naïve in believing that in our

democracy,  the  sitting Government would not use it?s parliamentary majority to force  changes  in  the  way  elections  are conducted, in the face of unanimous opposition from the other parties?


When  Electronic  Voting  was being considered by the Joint Oireachtas Committee last  November  and  December,  I expected the Government to step back from it?s implementation  in  June,  and  to  allow  time for consensus to develop on it?s introduction, for technical issues to be addressed and for the confidence of the public to be assured.


I  was astonished, when on December 18th last, the Government parties used their numerical  majority  on  the  Committee  to force a vote to ?approve? Electronic Voting  ?  before  the  Committee had completed it?s consideration of the issue. And  I  was  alarmed to discover that on the day after that vote the contractual arrangements  were  completed  with private companies supplying the hardware and software.


When the Government responded to the Opposition Motion in February by announcing the  appointment  of  a Commission and by conceding that new primary legislation would be necessary, I again believed the opportunity would be taken to slow down the  introduction  of Electronic Voting.  By then it had become clear that there is  no  public  demand  for Electronic Voting; that indeed there is considerable opposition  to it?s introduction; that there is a growing body of expert opinion which  is  warning  of  it?s  dangers;  that the county?s Opposition parties are distinctly  uneasy  at  the  Government?s approach, and that at very least, this fundamental  change  in our voting system should not be undertaken within such a short time frame.


I   have   been   surprised  again.   It  would  appear  that  contrary  to  all administrative  and  political  logic,  the  Government  intends to determinedly switch  this  country  over  to  Electronic  Voting  on  June  11th  whether the opposition likes it or not.


What  is all this about?  What is behind the Government?s single minded drive to introduce Electronic Voting?


I  do not accept that this is all down to the Minister?s ego.  It is tempting to imagine the Minister, as my Party Leader put it, as a Napoleonic figure throwing a  tantrum  on  his  return from the Far East, and insisting that he get his own

way.   But  Minister  Cullen  is  hardly  so desperate as to stake his political

reputation  on  a project which was not his own idea in the first place.  In any event, such delusions would hardly be indulged by the Government, as a whole, to the  extent  of handing over valuable Dáil time for it, if the Government itself were not committed to it.


It  could of course be down to arrogance.  This FF/PD Government has now been in office for so long that they think they own the country, and that they alone can change  the way the people cast their votes, no matter what the Opposition think

of  it.   If  this  Bill  is the product of Government Arrogance, then it is the

Government itself, and not the electoral process which needs to be changed.


But  the question remains, why is Fiánna Fáil so desperate to change the way the people coast their votes?


There  is  one other country where the Ruling Party has become obsessed with the same  objective  ?  that  is  the United States of America, where the Republican Party of President Bush, shares Fiánna Fáils passion for Electronic Voting.


The  United  States  experience is illuminating.  Following the Florida debacle, the  United  States  Congress enacted the Help America Vote Act in October 2002, with  the objective of introducing fully electronic voting all over the country. Different  States  may  use  different  systems,  and  already Electronic Voting systems  have  been  used in several elections. The Republican Party seems to be particularly keen on Electronic Voting.  And with good reason.


Journalist  Ben Harris, who is now specialising on Electronic Voting, points out that  the  State  of  Georgia was the first to introduce DRE?s ?Direct Recording Electronic  Voting Systems? ? similar (but not the same) as the new system being introduced  here. In the 2002 elections, a poll in the Atlanta Journal, two days before  the  election,  put  the  Democratic  incumbent Senator Max Cleland five points ahead, but on election day, the Republican challenger, the Chambliss, won by seven points ? a 12 point shift in 48 hours!


----- End forwarded message -----

Margaret McGaley
Margaret.McGaley at redbrick.dcu.ie

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