Government loses paper trail option for e-voting system

19 Feb 2004

The Government yesterday rejected calls for a paper audit trail facility to be added to its electronic voting system that its critics had been demanding. The Taoiseach Bertie Ahern TD has also confirmed that the independent panel set up to look into the accuracy of the e-voting process will be appointed by the Government.

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, the Taoiseach said that the a voter-verified audit trail (VVAT) was not needed as proof of votes cast. “The Irish system’s reliability for accurately recording votes cast has been tested and verified by an internationally accredited testing institute in Berlin. Other countries have also accepted the reliability and accuracy of the vote, including Holland, Germany and France, without the need for a voter audit trail,” he said.

He added that VVAT represented unnecessary duplication and he claimed that printers could not be relied upon to remain working throughout a whole election day. “Printers are unreliable in a high volume situation and that is the reason they are not used. The ballot papers printed at the time of voting and used in a manual count might not give the same precise results as the electronic voting system. We either opt for electronic voting or stay with the old system. There is no point having a dual system. That is like keeping the Irish pound and the euro.”

Irish Citizens for Trustworthy E-voting (ICTE), a group of academics, computer scientists and concerned citizens which advocates the use of VVAT, questioned the Government’s rejection of adding printers to e-voting machines. “We have printers used in lotteries, ATMs and tills and there are procedures to deal with the breakdown of those,” said ICTE spokesperson Margaret McGaley. She added that while it would soon be obvious if a printer had broken down, if the e-voting machines made a mistake there would be no way of knowing.

The Taoiseach also confirmed that it would establish a panel to oversee the e-voting process. “The Government accepts without qualification the necessity for and desirability of complete confidence in our electoral process. Electronic voting is a modern mechanism for the expression of the voter’s preference and it is not in the interests of either the Government or the Opposition to have a voting system that is not perceived to be fair and transparent. The Government is satisfied that the electronic voting system that is required will provide the necessary secrecy and accuracy and, in this regard, is prepared to establish a group that will have complete independence.”

Asked about the composition of the group, the Taoiseach said that the Government would appoint the members. “They will be people of high standing to deal with this issue. That will be provided for in the legislation,” he said.

The ICTE has welcomed the Government’s move to form a panel but Margaret McGaley voiced concerns over whether the group would truly be independent and how much power it would have. Although the Government has declared it doesn’t want to implement a VVAT, what if the panel said it was needed, she asked. McGaley added that the panel’s membership should include experts such as mathematicians, technologists and computer scientists.

By Gordon Smith