Irish Computer Society backs Government’s e-voting plans


20 Feb 2004

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The Irish Computer Society, the national representative body for IT professionals, has come out in support of the Government’s plan to introduce electronic voting, stressing the “positive impact” of technology. It added that use of IT in the public domain has helped to improve the workings of state services.

In a statement issued today, the organisation said that e-voting “can be a further enhancement to democratisation of society. Its roll-out will facilitate the greater participation by the public in decision making on key issues affecting our society.”

The group added that it had “observed with some concern” the recent debates on the issue. In the weeks since the Government launched its e-voting initiative, critics and Opposition parties have attacked the move, claiming that the proposed system has not been sufficiently tested and lacks a verifiable means of ensuring votes have been cast accurately. Ironically, given today’s developments, some of the most vocal opponents of the Government’s plans have come from the computer science sector, as reported by siliconrepublic.com.

The ICS acknowledged that the discussions so far had provided many insights on the issue but added that they had not given a clear picture of the overall integrity of the system. “It may be that there are reasons to be seriously concerned about this system. Experiences elsewhere of use of electronic voting give cause for special attention to the quality of any system that we adopt,” the statement said. The ICS welcomed the Government’s commitment to review the system and said it was aware of previous selective reviews. The group emphasised that this should be a full rather than partial review of its make-up and operation.

The statement came out in support of technology within the public sector. “The history of the use of IT in government is generally very good, and we are fortunate to have such competent and knowledgeable IT professionals in the public sector. There has been no published case of a major IT project failure. Engagement with use of IT has been positive. Indeed a number of clear-cut success stories are evident. We can therefore generally trust our public servants to approach the introduction of critical IT systems with knowledge and competence.”

In a move to address concerns over the Government’s choice of system, the ICS pointed out that as it had not been developed by our public sector IT or by any of the “very competent Irish IT enterprises”, it would have required good IT procurement practice.

The ICS did appear to sound a note of caution about the importance of having a transparent system. “No assumption can be made about the requirements for both ballot recording and ballot counting. Other requirements such as the need for reliability, security and audit are equally important. And as this is a system used by the public without prior training and following long intervals between elections, its operation must have all of the hallmarks of an easy and error-free operation. Selection by the Department of the Environment and contractual commitment by the supplier will therefore have taken these requirements clearly and specifically into account.”

The ICS said it welcomed public debate so that public concerns about the integrity of e-voting can be addressed, adding that this would lead to greater acceptance of the value of IT systems.

By Gordon Smith