Disposal plan sought for e-voting machines

Thu, Dec 29, 2011, 00:00

SUGGESTIONS ARE to be drawn up early next year for the disposal of the 7,000 unused electronic voting machines that have so far cost taxpayers €54.7 million.

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan has asked the taskforce, which was set up to supervise the winding down of the project, to outline proposals soon for their disposal.

A Department of the Environment spokesman said the “priority is to pursue the most economically advantageous approach, with a view to achieving the maximum recovery of cost possible in the circumstances, consistent with environmental and other obligations”.

Government sources are privately sceptical about recouping some of the costs involved, given that the machines are regarded as out of date.

In the past, the Department of Education inquired about using them for education programmes about civics and politics, while the Department of Social Protection considered adapting them as “information portals” in welfare offices.

However, they were found to be unsuitable for such use.

Dutch firm Nedap made the machines and public concerns in the Netherlands and Germany prompted the decommissioning of thousands of the same company’s machines in those countries.

The government agreed to buy the machines for €50 million nine years ago after they were piloted in a number of constituencies in the 2002 general election and in the Nice referendum.

Since then the bill to taxpayers for the machines has risen to €54.7 million in purchase and storage costs.

Plans to use them nationally in the 2004 European and local elections were abandoned amid controversy over the system’s transparency and whether it was open to manipulation.

In April 2009, the then Green Party minister for the environment John Gormley, who had inherited the project from Fianna Fáil ministers Noel Dempsey and Martin Cullen, announced that e-voting would be scrapped and the machines disposed of.

The machines were originally stored at 25 regional locations until, four years ago, 4,762 were moved to a central facility at Gormanston Army camp, Co Meath, at a one-off cost of €328,363.

A further 14 machines are held in the Custom House, Dublin.

The remaining machines are stored at 13 local premises chosen by returning officers.

Local storage costs last year amounted to €144,320.

The machines have long been the source of controversy and ridicule among politicians and the public because of the project’s failure and the escalating cost involved.

Strongly defending their introduction, the then taoiseach Bertie Ahern told the Dáil in 2007 that by not adopting the new technology “this country will move into the 21st century being a laughing stock with our stupid aul pencils”.