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