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Government folds on e-voting

The government has decided not to go ahead with using the electronic voting system this time around. The text of the CEV’s interim report is now available.

The ‘Commission on Electronic Voting’ has said that it doesn’t have enough information to allow it to definitively endorse the system. According to a report in the Irish Times, the Commission only got access to the source code for the counting software used in the system in the last week.

The voting commission must also be having a hard time fully evaluating the voting machines themselves. Despite what the government is saying, the machines used in Ireland are completely unique and are nothing like the Nedap machines used in Germany and the Netherlands. Fully testing these machines to ensure that they never lose a vote is a difficult and time-consuming thing to do.

It’s hard to know what the government will do with its system now. They can’t scrap the machines completely – too much has been invested to make that a viable option.

I suspect that what will happen will be that they will add a printer to the system and figure out a way of rapidly optically scanning the print-out to provide a definitive and verifiable vote.

It is worth saying that there are many admirable aspects about the system. It’s important to understand is that the system is designed to manage all parts of the election process, not just the vote-counting part. So it takes care of assembling and printing ballot papers and assigning officers to polling stations. A lot of these features are very useful and worthwhile.

One big political problem that has emerged is that the civil service recommended that the full implementation of the system be postponed, but the government decided to continue at full speed anyway. (See page 1 and page 2 of an internal deparmental memo, obtained under FOI.) So this screw-up is in many respects the government’s fault.

The government may try to implement the system in time for the presidential election. If it does, it may end up with egg on its face again. If more than three candidates run, the one million or so votes for the election will have to be centrally mixed. The current system may not be capable of doing this, because of the database system that is used.

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  1. ‘Fully testing these machines to ensure that they never lose a vote is a difficult and time-consuming thing to do.’

    especially when the software that is to be used in the election, will probably not be available until just before the election in question, due to Nedap/Powervote’s continual-update policy.

    also note that, even in the short time provided, they found a bug in the counting software: ‘certain of the tests performed at the request of the Commission identified an error in the count software which could lead to incorrect distributions of surpluses’.

    bit more at 😉