Government proposes panel to oversee e-voting

18 Feb 2004

The Government has been forced into an embarrassing climbdown over its controversial electronic voting plan in the wake of widespread opposition to its plans. However, its proposed independent panel which will be set up to verify the secrecy and accuracy of e-voting has itself been criticised.

Under changes proposed yesterday, the Government will establish an independent statutory panel to verify the security of the system in advance of the elections. This body will also monitor the operation of the voting machines and the counting of the votes cast in all elections to come. In addition, new legislation will be rushed through the Oireachtas to put electronic voting on a legal footing.

Speaking in the Oireachtas last night, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny TD called on the Government to add a paper-based audit trail to the e-voting system that would act as proof that the voting machines had recorded votes accurately. “If we do not have a verifiable paper system and a paper trail with which people can be happy, how can people have faith and trust in the election system?” he asked.

Kenny called the Government’s proposed independent panel a “fig leaf”. “If the Government was serious about the views of independent experts and the concerns of ordinary people and those who intend to vote, it would have produced a green paper and a white paper and would now suspend its plans for electronic voting in June,” he said. “Its belated amendment is an admission that it has failed to convince the political parties and the public that its chosen system of electronic voting can be relied on. Instead of facing up to its failure, it is trying to fudge its way out of the mess in which it has landed itself.”

Labour leader Pat Rabbitte TD said: “We are in the process of spending €40m to fix something which is not broken, based on no demand for change, no evaluation of flaws within the current system and no indication that the current system has ever produced anything but fair results.”

Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy TD rejected calls for a verifiable audit trail, saying that paper records were not kept in any jurisdiction where electronic voting was used, including California. He claimed that keeping paper records would not be practical as printers would break down under heavy use: “What happens if it breaks down during polling day?”

By Gordon Smith