Irish reject e-voting, go back to paper

A little more than two years ago, I published a review in Voting matters of the Second Report of the Irish Commission on Electronic Voting.

The government of Ireland chose an electronic voting system for use beginning with the local and European Parliamentary elections of 11 June 2004. Responding to public criticism, the government established the Independent Commission on Electronic Voting and Counting at Elections in March 2004. In April 2004, the Commission issued an interim report recommending against using the chosen system for the 2004 elections, citing concerns over secrecy, accuracy and testing. The Commission issued its First Report in December 2004, and its Second (and final) Report in July 2006; the Commission was dissolved in September 2006. Except for a limited pilot test in 2002, the system has not been deployed.

The experience was not entirely satisfactory (read the report, or my review). I concluded,

The Irish government is left with several options for moving forward.

1. Adopt the Commission’s recommendations. Improve the voting machine and its software, improve procedures during and between elections, and replace the IES with alternative software that can meet the Commission’s standards.

2. Adopt the Commission’s recommendations as above, but require the vendor to provide a voter-verifiable audit trail (VVAT), and adopt appropriate procedures for taking advantage of the VVAT.

3. Abandon the chosen system, begin a process to define new criteria for a voting system, and then identify and acquire such a system.

4. Abandon the chosen system and continue to use the existing paper-based system, perhaps with procedural improvements, leaving open the option of considering an electronic voting system at some future time.

The Sunday Business Post (Dublin) reports that the government is leaning toward option 1, estimating the cost of complying with the Commission’s recommendations to be approximately 500K, compared with a sunk cost of some 60M.

The 500K figure is disputed, however, and regardless of the cost of option 1, the cost of option 2 would be substantially higher.

My advice? Choose option 4, and establish a new commission that would, with public participation, recommend improvements to the present paper-ballot system, monitor the experience and (dis)satisfaction of other users of electronic voting systems, and develop criteria for the eventual selection of a system for Ireland. The world of electronic voting is evolving rapidly, and Ireland is in a fine position to take advantage of the experience (including the bad experience) of others before taking such an important step.

In the event, the Irish Government has accepted acted consistently with my advice, reverting to paper ballots and establishing an Independent Electoral Commission to make further reforms (though apparently not explicitly including another go at electronics).

Minister Gormley announces Government decision to end electronic voting and counting project

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Mr. John Gormley T.D., today (23 April 2009) announced that the Government has decided not to proceed with the implementation of electronic voting in Ireland. A process will now be put in place, including discussions with the supplier, to address the disposal of the electronic voting and counting equipment and termination of storage arrangements.

“It is clear from consideration of the Report of the Commission on Electronic Voting that significant additional costs would arise to advance electronic voting in Ireland. This decision has been taken to avoid such costs, especially at a time of more challenging economic conditions. The financial and other resources that would be involved in modifying the machines in advance of implementation could not be justified in present circumstances”, Minister Gormley said.

The Minister noted that “the public in broad terms appear to be satisfied with the present paper-based system and we must recognise this in deciding on the future steps to be taken with the electronic voting system.” The Minister also acknowledged that “the assurance of public confidence in the democratic system is of paramount importance and it is vital to bring clarity to the present situation”.

Quite. Good. Carry on.

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