Rise and fall of Irish e-voting: a brief but expensive history


THE PLAN to introduce electronic voting goes back 10 years. In the spring of 1999 then minister for the environment Noel Dempsey commissioned research on the counting of ballot papers in the European and local elections of 1999 to test the feasibility of e-voting.

He followed that up with an e-voting pilot scheme for the 2002 general election in the three constituencies of Dublin North, Dublin West and Meath.

People in these constituencies voted electronically and the results were announced on the night of the election. The votes in other constituencies were counted in the normal way the following day. Mr Dempsey’s successor as minister for the environment, Martin Cullen, proceeded with the scheme to introduce electronic voting for all elections and the machines were bought at a cost of €51 million from Dutch firm Nedap for use in the 2004 European and local elections.

However, a campaign against the introduction of electronic voting developed with the main argument being that there were security concerns about the voting machines and that there would be no paper verification of the result.

Opposition parties, who had not objected to the use of electronic voting in 2002, backed the campaign and the government established a commission to examine the system which had already been purchased.

The commission, chaired by a High Court judge, Mr Justice Matthew P Smith, reported in April 2004 that it was unable to verify the accuracy and secrecy of the proposed system in the available time frame. As a result the government deferred the planned introduction of the system of electronic voting in 2004.

In its second and final report in July 2006, the commission said that electronic voting was feasible if the voting machines and the software were modified to ensure their security. Defending the electronic voting system in the Dáil in October 2006, then taoiseach Bertie Ahern expressed the view that with some modifications to protect the security of the system it could still be implemented. “Otherwise, this country will move into the 21st century being a laughing stock with our stupid old pencils,” he added.

At that stage the voting machines had been put into storage at an annual cost of €800,00.

In the light of the continuing controversy the government decided not to use them for the general election of 2007 in which voters in all 43 constituencies reverted to the old manual system.