Euro re­count raises the dis­mal spec­tre of e-vot­ing and more wasted cash

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - OPINION -

THE more things change the more they stay the same. It’s a well worn adage and one that our Jus­tice Min­is­ter Char­lie Flanagan seems to have em­braced fol­low­ing news that the Ire­land South con­stituency is set for a marathon re­count. As the re­count gets un­der­way for the Eur­op­eran Par­lia­ment seats, Min­is­ter Flanagan has sug­gested – 20 years after the coun­try wasted mil­lions of Euro on the same flawed idea – that we once again ex­plore the no­tion of elec­tronic vot­ing.

Min­is­ter Flanagan says the idea of vot­ers in Ire­land South wait­ing an­other 28 days for the re­sult of the Euro­pean elec­tions is “in­tol­er­a­ble” and ar­gues that it is now time to re­visit the con­cept of e-vot­ing.

The Jus­tice Min­is­ter has told the press that he would like the elec­toral com­mis­sion, which is ex­pected to be­gin work later this year, to pri­ori­tise a study of in­ter­na­tional best prac­tice in the area of e-vot­ing.

Given that the Na­tional Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal and Na­tional Broad­band Plan – two high pro­file Fine Gael gov­ern­ment projects that have seen their costs spi­ral out of con­trol – were pre­vi­ously cited as ex­am­ples of ‘best prac­tice’, the tax­payer has ev­ery rea­son to be con­cerned.

Just for a mo­ment let us re­visit the sham­bles that was e-vot­ing. Back in 1999, then En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Noel Dempsey was the first to float the idea of elec­tronic vot­ing, a flashy new in­no­va­tion that was soon em­braced by Taoiseach Ber­tie Ah­ern.

A trial run took place in three con­stituen­cies in the 2002 Gen­eral Elec­tion and in seven con­stituen­cies in that year’s Nice ref­er­en­dum.

While the trial run ini­tially seemed to work with­out any great prob­lems, it later emerged that the elec­tronic elec­tions had been plagued by prob­lems. A damn­ing ‘con­fi­den­tial’ Gov­ern­ment re­port – which soon wound its way into the hands of the me­dia – ex­pressed se­ri­ous con­cerns about the e-vote and said the in­tegrity of the bal­lot could not be trusted.

The Gov­ern­ment pressed ahead and splashed out €51 mil­lion on e-vot­ing machines. The pub­lic, how­ever, re­mained un­con­vinced, largely due to the work of a group of Dutch hack­ers who proved that the machines could eas­ily be mod­i­fied and ma­nip­u­lated.

Even­tu­ally, in 2010, new Taoiseach Brian Cowen said the no­tion of e-vot­ing had been aban­doned and two years later the €51 mil­lion worth of machines – which had cost an ex­tra €3 mil­lion to store – were sold to a scrap metal firm for a lit­tle over €70,000. Les­son learned, or so we thought.

Ire­land’s elec­toral sys­tem is far from per­fect – no elec­toral sys­tem is – but it is one of the best in the world. It is awk­ward, un­wieldy and time con­sum­ing but it guar­an­tees that all voices can be heard and rep­re­sented.

The Ire­land South re­count will be lengthy and it will be costly but that is the price of democ­racy. Who­ever is even­tu­ally elected in Ire­land South will rep­re­sent around 1.5 mil­lion peo­ple for the next five years. Surely it’s worth a few weeks wait and less than a Euro per per­son to get that right.

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