[E-voting] Electronic Voting in the Dáil Yesterday

Keith Martin keith at keith.gs
Wed Nov 30 09:53:37 GMT 2005


Below is the text of a debate on Electronic Voting in the Dáil yesterday, for
those who are interested.  Roche makes some interesting statements.

KEITH



   9. Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local
Government if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the UK Government
has cancelled all it plans to run trials of electronic voting in advance of UK
local elections in 2006; if, in view of this, he intends to abandon the
electronic voting project altogether; and if he will make a statement on the
matter. [36644/05]

   Mr. Roche: Governments in different jurisdictions, including the UK, will
adopt varying approaches to electoral issues according to their own
circumstances and priorities at any given time.  For example, the UK operates a
first past the post electoral system and it is not advocated in this House that
the UK should be an exemplar for us in this regard.
  The Government decision in February 2000 to move to electronic voting and
counting in Ireland aimed at securing a broad range of identified benefits
compared to the current manual arrangements, including more democratic outcomes
through the minimisation of invalid votes and the more accurate counting of
votes, provision of a higher level of service to the public, greater
flexibility and speed in the voting and counting processes, and increased use
of modern information and communications technologies.  The decision followed
extensive research on electronic voting systems and experiences in other
countries and the trial conducted in Ireland about which, it will be recalled,
the main Opposition party was most enthusiastic.
  The Electoral (Amendment) Act 2004, which confirms the use of electronic
voting and counting at Irish elections, maintains the mandate from the
Government and the Oireachtas to work towards implementation of electronic
voting and counting.  Accordingly, a programme of further assessment, testing
and validation of the electronic voting and counting system is under way to
address issues raised by the Commission on Electronic Voting and demonstrate
that the system operates reliably, securely and accurately.  As part of this
programme and following an open procurement process, my Department appointed
consultants in July 2005 to undertake a security and risk assessment of all
aspects of the system.  This work is now well under way and will be completed
as soon as possible.

   Mr. Gilmore: It is a great relief to hear the Government has appointed
consultants to examine the security of electronic voting and to conduct a risk
assessment.

   Mr. Roche: The confidence in our counting ability is such that the Deputy
should breathe a sigh of relief.

   Mr. Gilmore: It will reassure the country.  The British Government sensibly
decided to carry out tests of electronic voting before committing itself to
using electronic voting in elections.  The last tests were in 2003 and more
trials were scheduled for 2004, but these were abandoned on the advice of the
electoral commission.  They have now abandoned the whole idea.  Whatever the
Minister may think of the British electoral system, the British Government has
approached the issue of electronic voting more sensibly than the crowd of
"electro-Paddies" which purchased machines software without testing them.  What
will the Minister do with the machines?  He has stated that they will not be
used in the next general election, so what is to become of them?  Will the
Minister find some place, such as Zimbabwe or Florida, which may need the
assistance of these machines?  The machines could be sold as a job lot and we
could at least cut our losses.  We would not have to pay the €750,000 cost of
storing the machines every year.  It is time to cut our losses on the botched
electronic voting system.

   Mr. Roche: I am familiar with the Deputy's views on the issue.  With regard
to the UK, 27 different pilot projects were carried out, with the forms of
voting ranging from SMS text voting - I do not understand how that would work -
to Internet, postal and electronic voting, which would be a similar process to
our own.  More recently, the focus in the last British general election was on
the large-scale provision of postal voting.  It is intended to continue their
activities in this regard, although there was concern over security.
  The UK Government has recently decided not to seek applications for local
authorities to pilot the use of electronic voting systems.  Electronic voting
systems are used elsewhere and we piloted them here.

   Mr. Gilmore: They are used in Florida.

   Mr. Roche: There was a degree of enthusiasm when the idea was piloted here. 
If we all had the benefit of hindsight at the time-----

   Mr. Gilmore: If only the Minister had listened to me in the first place.

   Mr. Roche: I do not wish to be disingenuous as I do not know what the Deputy
stated at the time, but the Deputy would have demonstrated more prescience than
other members of the Opposition.  The Deputy asked if we will give the machines
away, but that would not be a sensible suggestion.

   Mr. Gilmore: We could sell them.  Is there a market for electronic voting
machines?

   Mr. Cuffe: There would be a charge under the WEEE directive.

   Mr. Roche: A charge would have to be paid if I sold them on.  I am looking at
the storage issue and I hope to resolve it as I am seeking to identify a storage
location with my colleagues.  It does not serve a purpose to have the machines
in expensive storage on a decentralised basis.  They will not be used in the
2007 elections, but I would not hold my breath after that time.

   Mr. O'Dowd: The problem with storage is the ambient temperature and other
issues regarding the quality and capacity of the location.  The machines cannot
be placed in a bin or large space in a basement.  Is it not important to now
move on and get people out to vote?  The numbers of people voting in general
elections is reducing, particularly in urban areas.  We need more polling
stations near where people work or shop.  Fewer people are voting now, in
percentage terms, than was the case.

   Mr. Roche: The Deputy is correct and we should facilitate people's voting. 
In the British debate on electronic and Internet voting in particular, a
possibility that was thought attractive was that people vote in a booth in a
supermarket.

   Mr. Stagg: They do not have Fianna Fáil over there.

   Mr. Roche: Given our experience we should make haste slowly.  I agree with
the Deputy in that changing lifestyles have necessitated that voting be made
easier.  We should encourage people to vote and ensure we have a proper voting
register.

   Mr. O'Dowd: Absolutely.

   Acting Chairman: I intend to take three brief questions from Deputies
Gilmore, McCormack, and Cuffe.

   Mr. Gilmore: How much are the services of the consultants who have been
appointed to check on the machines, see if they are affected by damp and ensure
that nobody is trying to steal or copy the patents, which would cost the
taxpayer on top of the other wasted funding for these machines?

   Mr. Roche: I should be so lucky.

   Mr. McCormack: I welcome the Minister's assurance that the machines will not
be used in 2007.  That will probably see me out anyway.  If he reads the
minutes of the Oireachtas committees relating to environmental matters he will
see I never had faith in these machines.

   Mr. Gilmore: That is true.

   Mr. McCormack: Why is it costing more to store these machines in Waterford
than anywhere else?

   Mr. Cuffe: It is a vexing issue.

   Mr. McCormack: There has been no answer to my question.  I have researched
the figures.

   Mr. Roche: Courtesy demands we wait until Deputy Cuffe asks his question.  I
will then answer all three questions.

   Mr. Cuffe: My question concerns the storage of these damned machines.  In
March, the Minister assured us he was working with the Department of Defence to
find centralised safe storage for these infernal machines.  Has the Minister
made any progress in this matter?

   Mr. Roche: Yes, but for the reasons stated by Deputy O'Dowd one has to ensure
that conditions are correct for the machines.

   Mr. Gilmore: Deputy O'Dea will look after them.

   Mr. O'Dowd: Put them in Willie's care.

   Mr. Roche: We do not wish to upset the machines.  With regard to the point
made by Deputy McCormack, who is always impatient for an answer, the cost was
in the terms of the contract.

   Mr. McCormack: Why was this so?

   Acting Chairman: The Minister should be allowed continue without
interruption.  We have gone well over time.

   Mr. Roche: A contract was drawn up with the returning officer in
Waterford-----

   Mr. McCormack: The man who wanted the machines so badly is storing them in
Waterford now.

   Mr. Roche: The Deputy is making it-----

   Mr. McCormack: He would not listen to anybody only himself.

   Acting Chairman: The Minister, without interruption.

   Mr. Roche: In that case he is a bit like the Deputy because he never listens
to anybody either.

   Acting Chairman: We will move on to Question No. 10.

   Mr. McCormack: I listen to the electorate, otherwise I would not be here, no
more than the Minister would if he did not listen to them.

   Mr. Roche: I suggest that the Deputy examine what his party did in Meath in
putting out a superb leaflet praising electronic voting.

   Mr. O'Dowd: Put your face on it.

   Mr. Roche: Deputy Gilmore asked a specific question and I will communicate
the figure to him.

   Mr. McCormack: The Minister should read the minutes of the committee meetings
to find out who was against the issue.

   Acting Chairman: I call Question No. 10.

   Mr. O'Dowd: The Minister is asleep.



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