Gormley scraps e-voting system

Thu, Apr 23, 2009, 01:00

Minister for the Environment John Gormley has today announced that electronic voting is to be abandoned.

The Government bought 7,500 machines but later abandoned plans to introduce the new system after doubts were raised about the veracity of the system.

In a statement today, Mr Gormley said: "It is clear from consideration of the Report of the Commission on Electronic Voting that significant additional costs would arise to advance electronic voting in Ireland. This decision has been taken to avoid such costs, especially at a time of more challenging economic conditions.

"The financial and other resources that would be involved in modifying the machines in advance of implementation could not be justified in present circumstances."

Speaking in Cork, the Minister insisted he had acted prudently. "I believe that what we are doing here is acting in people’s best interests . . . if we were to retrofit the VVAT - that’s the voter Verifiable Audit Trail - that would cost up to 27 million and in the economic circumstances that money just isn’t there."

He said the the public appeared to be broadly satisfied with the present paper-based system and that this had to be recognised.

Mr Gormley added: "The assurance of public confidence in the democratic system is of paramount importance and it is vital to bring clarity to the present situation."

He said a task force would examine the disposal of the e-voting and counting equipment and ending of storage arrangements.

"The whole idea is that we actually do recoup some of this money now - we have to look exactly at how this can be achieved - we have been in contact with the makers of the machines - Nedap - we will look at that . . we’re going to look now at every means possible to ensure that the money is recouped."

He refused to say the Government was wrong on e-voting but defended the move on the basis it was "following best international practice". But Mr Gormley admitted there was now a "huge question" over this type of voting.

"I hope that people will say ‘fair play’, I’ve acted on this and done something about it - I am acting on this now."

Some €51 million has been spent so far on the system, with associated storage costs.

The machines are being stored in locations throughout the State, and the cost of this is estimated to be €3.5 million by the end of this year. As contracts ranging from 20 to 30 years were agreed by the State, penalties may be imposed for an early buy-out.

However, Mr Gormley said he did not see a difficulty over the storage contracts.

The average storage cost of the equipment was €650,000 between 2004 and 2007.

E-voting machines were piloted in three constituencies in the 2002 general election but have remained idle since then. The voting system most famously resulted in a shock for former Fine Gael TD and minister for justice Nora Owen when she lost her Dublin North Dáil seat.

The voting system was dropped by the Government ahead of the local and European elections in June 2004.

A report from the Commission on Electronic Voting had found the body had not been in a position to satisfy itself as to the accuracy of the Nedap Powervote system, which it said was "effectively self-auditing".

"Experts retained by the Commission found it very easy to bypass electronic security measures and gain complete control of the 'hardened PC', overwrite the software, and thereby, in theory, to gain complete control over the count in a given constituency," the Commission reported.

The Netherlands and Germany had considering using electronic voting, but both have abandoned it over security concerns.