June ballot will test electronic counting

 

The Government is to carry out research on the counted ballot papers in the forthcoming European and local elections to test the feasibility of the electronic counting of votes in the future.

This was announced yesterday by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Mr Dempsey, when he published the Local Elections (Disclosure of Donations and Expenditure) Bill, 1999.

The Minister has set, by Order, an expenditure limit of £150,000 per candidate in the forthcoming European elections. He has provided also for the disclosure of donations over £500 by candidates, political parties and third parties in the local elections next June. Unlike Dail elections, however, he is setting no limit on expenditure.

Mr Dempsey also said that about one-third of existing councillors would avail of the new early retirement scheme. The estimated cost would be £4 million to £5 million.

The Bill makes provision for a sample of the counted ballot papers in the European and local elections in June to be used for research into the feasibility of introducing electronic methods of recording and counting votes under the present PR-STV system.

Mr Dempsey said it was intended to introduce an electronic system for all elections in the future. He indicated that, if the research proved successful, it could be used in the next presidential elections.

One of the challenges of such research, according to the Minister, was that a sample of second and subsequent preferences was used at present at the counts. The electronic methods would allow for all transfers to be recorded and counted.

The planned research, under controlled conditions to ensure the security and secrecy of the ballot papers, would not begin until any election petitions in connection with the European and local elections had been fully processed, in the courts if necessary.

The new Bill also provides for a system of disclosure of election expenditure by candidates, political parties and third parties at local elections, together with disclosure of the sources of funds used to meet election expenditure.

Like Dail elections, details of each donation over £500 received by candidates will have to be disclosed by the 5,500 candidates standing for the 1,627 seats on local authorities in June.

Each candidate will be required to submit an income and expenditure statement to the relevant local authority. Details of any donation over £500 received to fund election expenditure will also have to be disclosed.

Political parties will also be required to submit a statement of their total expenditure at the local elections to a local authority in the Dublin area.