Government gets no 'serious offers' for e-voting machines

 

GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS have had “no serious offers” to buy the 7,000 unused electronic voting machines it purchased for €50 million eight years ago.

The Department of the Environment has had about 20 expressions of interest about salvaging the equipment or putting it to alternative use. Two of these offers were from other departments.

The Department of Education inquired about using the equipment for education programmes about civics and politics, while the Department of Social Protection explored the possibility of adapting the machines as “information portals” in welfare offices.

Officials concluded the equipment was unlikely to be suitable for the purposes they had in mind. Government records state that all inquiries to date have been “general in nature and would certainly not constitute serious offers to buy or acquire the equipment”.

The Government will soon put out a tender seeking formal expressions of interest. Privately, however, officials are not hopeful of recouping a significant amount. Although they are valued at about €30 million – following eight years’ depreciation – the machines are regarded as out of date.

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.

Government officials have been told by the manufacturer that there is no scope to sell the machines back to it. There are also concerns about whether it can legally allow the licensed software in the machines to be used by other potential owners.

A document prepared for the secretary general of the Department of Environment – who is responsible for disposal of the voting machines – says all avenues to recover some of the cost in purchasing the machines will be pursued.  However, it states it remained a “realistic possibility that none of the investment will be recovered”.

The Government agreed to buy the voting machines eight years ago after they were piloted in a number of constituencies in the 2002 general election and in the Nice referendum.

Plans to use them on a national basis in the 2004 local and European elections were abandoned following mounting controversy over the system’s transparency and whether it was open to manipulation.

In April last year, Minister for the Environment John Gormley announced the plans would be scrapped. However, the cost of the controversy continues to mount.

The total cost of the electronic voting project has now reached €54.6 million. Some €3 million has been spent on storing the machines over the past five years, while tens of thousands has been spent on hiring consultants to advise on how to dispose of the machines or more cost-effective ways of storing them.These costs are likely to escalate further as the Government seeks to break four long-term leases it signed to store the machines. Two of these leases are due to run for 20 – 25 years. The Government is in talks with the individuals over the amount of compensation involved.

Dumping or recycling the equipment could be costly as the department is obliged to ensure they are disposed of in an environmentally responsible manner.One of the areas used to store the machines is Monaghan, where a 25-year lease was signed at €16,800 per year.

This was arranged by the then returning officer Josephine Duffy, whose nephew owns the storage premises. Ms Duffy told the department she was unable to find another suitable premises in the region.  It has since emerged that the building – built to house agricultural equipment – did not have planning permission. The owner has since applied to Monaghan County Council for permission.