Thursday, 29 April 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
11. Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the total expenditure, including VAT, incurred to date on equipment, software and training for electronic voting; the total estimated cost including VAT of the proposed system; the total estimated cost, including VAT, of the proposed computerised electronic counting system; the total estimated cost including VAT of the publicity campaign to promote electronic voting; the reason for the decision to purchase 300 additional voting machines in January 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12188/04]
45. Ms Burton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the basis on which an official of his Department wrote to the Department of Finance justifying the purchase of additional voting machines in which they said that there were strong indications that there may be a further ballot paper at the June 2004 polls; the information on which his official was acting; if he, as Minister, was privy to the information; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12189/04]
Some €45 million has been advanced to date by the Department of Finance to returning officers to meet expenditure on the cost of system hardware and other election expenses, including training. The estimated cost of the system software for the June polls is €467,000. The estimated cost of the equipment and software is €46.4 million, including VAT. The voter education and awareness campaign is estimated to cost €5 million, including VAT, of which €1.125 million has been advanced to date. This programme will also include approximately €1 million on promoting awareness of the polls in June and to encourage the electorate to vote.
An additional 300 voting machines were ordered on 14 January 2004 based on the likelihood, following previous experience, that there could be multiple polls beyond those already envisaged on 11 June 2004, and the need to ensure a strategic reserve of machines available for use by returning officers having regard to estimated demands.
This is the first major investment in the electoral system for many years. Substantial savings will arise over the life of the equipment on the printing of ballot papers and reduced staffing requirements at counts. In addition, there will be savings from more streamlined pre-poll and post-poll arrangements. While future cost savings are an important factor, they are not the only rationale for introducing the system which is intended to make it easier for electors to vote, to eliminate spoilt votes, except if they arise in the postal and special voter categories, to improve the accuracy of vote counting and to provide more efficiency in electoral administration.
Electronic voting and counting is a welcome modernisation of our electoral process. It reflects a broader process of modernisation in our public services and an expectation that democratic processes should keep pace with other progressive developments in our society.
Mr. Perry: How much was spent on the roadshow and what allocation was spent through the county registrars? In County Sligo it will appear in only two towns for a very short while. It is welcome but should tour with more equity and fairness through the county. Does the Minister of State agree that as machines have been delivered to each county, the county registrar should bring the machines to each town and village and put them in public areas prior to the election to show the electorate how they work?
Mr. Gallagher: The voter education awareness campaign is estimated to cost €5 million, including VAT. Deputy Perry’s view was raised several times yesterday on Committee Stage of the Electoral (Amendment) Bill and it was felt that the machines possibly were not available in many towns. I said that I would report that to the relevant officials in the franchise section. The Deputy is right that the machines are available in every county and I hope they would be available in all the local authority offices. Although the offices are not situated in every town and village people visit them frequently. The awareness campaign for electronic voting in the 2002 election in Dublin West, Dublin North and Meath was smaller than the present one. The same applied to the seven constituencies which had electronic voting for referendum on the Treaty of Nice. The survey conducted afterwards on our behalf recorded voter satisfaction of 87%.
Mr. Gallagher: Apprehension and fear of the unknown is understandable but while I will not say they are as easy to use as 1,2,3 or be facetious, anyone who has seen the machines knows that they are easy to use. We are trying to familiarise as many people as possible with them through the awareness campaign. I will take the Deputy’s views on board.
Mr. Perry: What level of the €4.5 million has been distributed to each of the county registrars in the country? Could the Minister of State also indicate the level of the indemnity given to the supplier of the contract with regard to its obligations? If there is any possibility of litigation who takes the total risk?
Mr. Morgan: Does the Minister of State agree that the proposal for electronic voting has been a very expensive fiasco from the outset and that an opportunity has been lost to introduce a proper electronic voting system for the electorate? Does he further agree that it will be very difficult to recover confidence from the public in a system that many of us believe is unsafe and unreliable?
Mr. Sargent: I do not wish to pre-empt the work of the commission that will report on this matter but will the Minister of State take into account the fact of life, whatever about 1,2,3, that in towns such as Balbriggan, which has a town council, there will be 1,2,3,4 votes: the referendum, European elections, county council and town council elections? Can he ensure that the roadshow would give due recognition to that and ensure that people who must vote in four different electoral processes are familiar with the system? This would prevent the formation of queues given that this is the first time we have used electronic voting over four processes.
Mr. Gallagher: I am not aware of how much money was allocated to each county registrar. It is not part of the question and I do not have the breakdown of figures. If one works through international accredited institutes, such as the PTB, there is no problem about indemnity. However, the independent commission established to verify the secrecy and accuracy of the vote requested the Government to provide the necessary indemnification. That indemnification cannot be provided until the Bill is enacted and it may not be required. I am not sure, this is hypothetical until the report is made available. The Government has indemnified the commission and its agents. I do not wish to stray into the area of the source code and the PTB because I do not want to infringe on the commission’s work.
Electronic voting is not a waste of money. There is confidence in it among the public. The only place where there is no confidence is among the Opposition. The people want electronic voting and I have every confidence in the intelligence of the voter and that it will work extremely well.
We have considered the question of multiple votes. It may well be that where there are town council votes, if the list exceeds 18 we will need another space. That is part of the reason for bringing in extra machines. The machines should be available where there are local authority offices, as in Balbriggan, and I will bring that to the attention of those who are responsible for the awareness campaign.
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