E-voting back on agenda as new tests planned

3 Jun 2005

The Government has issued a new tender to test its e-voting system, indicating that it is determined to press ahead with the controversial technology.

The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which handled the original introduction of e-voting, has published a tender for additional assessment, testing and validation of the system. The department will undertake this task in consultation and co-ordination with the Commission on Electronic Voting (CEV), the independent body set up last year to examine the viability of the technology.

Backed by a multi-million euro publicity campaign, e-voting had been scheduled for nationwide introduction at the local and European elections in June 2004. However, this was postponed indefinitely when the CEV issued a report saying that the testing of the system had been insufficient and that it could not verify the accuracy and secrecy of votes recorded.

Even after the system was shelved for last year’s election, officials at the department had expressed the hope that it could be resurrected for use in future campaigns. Legislation to allow electronic voting has been on the statute books since 2001 and the system was piloted during the May 2002 general election and the Nice referendum in October of that year.

Critics of the proposed e-voting system considered that a major flaw in the Nedap/Powervote machines and counting software selected by the Government was the lack of a voter-verified audit trail – a paper record that confirms to the person at the machine that their ballot has been cast correctly.

According to the tender document, the latest development is aimed at “progressing the electronic voting and counting project” and will “address the key issues raised in relation to the secrecy and accuracy of the electronic system”.

It is hoped that the security assessment will “provide the necessary confidence in the integrity of the system and that all aspects of the system operate effectively and securely”. The successful bidder will also have a remit to recommend appropriate measures that would enhance the security of the system and minimise risks.

Bids for the contract must be submitted on or before 21 June this year and the winner will be appointed in early July. The security and risk assessment part of the project should be completed within six weeks and the consultants’ work may be completed by September, although there is scope to extend this term.

By Gordon Smith