The embarrassment of eVoting
So far the roll-out of electronic voting has cost the State €51 million, almost double the original estimate of €33 million. The machines were used in some constituencies in the last election in 2002 but their roll out was halted in 2004 amid concerns from the Commission on Electronic Voting about their reliability. A final report by the commission last July said the counting technology, a computer programme, could be manipulated to change the outcome of a vote, and in tests it sometimes eliminated the wrong candidate.
The 7,500 voting machines ordered by government are currently sitting in warehouse. Storage costs alone for the machines cost € 696,000 in 2005. Ironically a long term aim of the scheme was to save money on election counts. Overall, it was anticipated that there would be staff and equipment savings of about €1.4 million per poll nationally at traditional count centres.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) said that there should have been a “more rigorous cost benefit analysis” done in relation to electronic voting and criticised the government's purchase of e-voting machines when they were already aware that modifications were going to be needed on the machines. The government decided to buy another 400 machines for the Nice Referendum in 2002, despite the fact that they already knew modifications were needed from the 600 machines they had already bought which had cost €l.4 million.
The C&AG report said this resulted in avoidable cost of €680,000 being incurred. When they did have to get the 1,000 machines they had already purchased modified, including the 400 from the Nice Referendum, it cost €3 million.
Advertising and promotional costs for the scheme cost €3 million.
A cabinet subcommittee has now been set up to consider the recommendations of the Commission on Electronic Voting who said they had concerns about the safety and reliability of the voting machines.
Recently Bertie Ahern said in the Dáil that the evoting debacle was “an embarrassment”. It also emerged that returning officers have entered into 25 year leases for the storage of the machines. They may have to buy these leases out of they want to move all the machines to a central storage location.