Is it time for Ireland to embrace electronic voting?

13 Jun 2024

Image: © Mirko/

Electronic voting can speed up the counting process and help those who can’t reach voting stations, but Ireland has a troubled history with this technology and some experts have raised privacy and security concerns.

Ireland’s complicated voting system is showing its disadvantages this week, as the country’s vote for MEPs continues to drag on.

The country’s proportional representation form of voting is known to take longer than others like the UK’s first-past-the-post method. This complex form of voting means only a portion of Ireland’s MEPs have been elected so far, while other countries have already completed their votes.

This delay has led to some discussion around Ireland potentially changing its voting system for European elections. It has also caused discussion around electronic voting – or e-voting – which presents a faster alternative to the current pencil and paper approach.

This form of voting offers benefits such as faster counting and lets individuals vote remotely. But Ireland has a troubled history with this technology and some experts have concerns with the technology.

What are the benefits of e-voting?

E-voting has been around for some time and presents various benefits if it is adopted properly. The World Economic Forum notes that e-voting can support individuals who normally would be unable to vote due to health conditions or from living in a remote location.

An electronic voting system would benefit Ireland’s Government as it can speed up voting and make the process more efficient. A report from the European Commission also claimed these systems could reduce the risk of counting errors, reduce costs for voters and reduce the risk of late votes.

A report from Stanford University in 2007 said electronic voting has the ability to reduce fraud by eliminating the opportunity for ballot tampering. This report also noted that the success of electronic voting rests with the ability of electronic voting machines to “function in the way the voting district needs and prefers”.

Unfortunately for Ireland, the choice of voting machines proved troublesome in its attempt to move away from paper voting before.

Why not Ireland?

Various countries have adopted e-voting in some shape or form, such as Estonia which had more electronic votes than paper votes for the first time last year. Other countries such as Norway, Russia, India and Switzerland are reportedly offering e-voting to some degree.

This might make people wonder why Ireland isn’t giving electronic voting a try. One reason could be our history – an attempt to bring in electronic voting ended in disaster in the early 2000s.

Ireland had an electronic voting trial in 2002 and after some initial success, the Government bought 7,500 voting machines at a cost of €51m, according to a report from The Journal.

But concerns around security, privacy and reliability cast a shadow on these expensive machines. A report raised issues about their reliability and by 2004, Ireland was back using paper for all of its votes.

These infamous machines ended up being sold for scrap in 2012, at a price of only €9.30 per machine according to an Irish Independent report.

The drawbacks of e-voting

Regardless of advances in e-voting technology, concerns remain about the security of these systems, as some experts fear that the votes could be breached or tampered with.

Dublin City University associate professor Eoin O’Malley told Newstalk Breakfast that he believes paper voting remains the best route forward for Ireland and that electronic voting lacks transparency.

The concerns around cybersecurity may not be unfounded. Last year, experts in the US raised concerns about the use of electronic voting in the 2020 presidential election.

A letter from nearly two dozen experts and organisations urged federal agencies to investigate an effort to access the voting system software. These experts warned that it raises “serious threats” ahead of this year’s US election.

“The multi-state effort to unlawfully obtain copies of voting system software poses serious threats to election security and national security and constitutes a potential criminal conspiracy of enormous consequences,” the letter read.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic