Thursday, 4 March 2004

Questions (19, 20, 21)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

15 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the basis on which he proposes to proceed with electronic voting given public antipathy towards the proposal, the lack of a secure electronic voting system, and the premature nature of the project in the absence of a tangible verifiable paper record; the total cost to date in the entire exercise, including any costs arising from advertising, promotion or public relations; if he will outline from where the demand for electronic voting first arose and on whose recommendation; if he will outline the basis on which the issue received support and approval for the expenditure of public moneys; if he intends to proceed regardless of opposition among the general public and the Members of Dáil and Seanad Éireann; if he will outline the way the expenditure of public moneys to date and the likely further expenditure can be justified in this case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7227/04]

View answer

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

52 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on the constitutionality of his proposal to introduce electronic voting in the face of public and parliamentary opposition; if he can justify the expenditure to date on this issue given the countless competing and much more commendable demands such as housing now facing his Department; the total estimated cost of the venture from its inception to conclusion, including promotion, advertising or public relations and any likely costs hidden or otherwise to date or in the future; if he has seriously considered how he proposes to justify the costs involved in this proposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7228/04]

View answer

Joan Burton

Question:

57 Ms Burton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress made to date with regard to the commitments given by the Government in regard to electronic voting contained in the Government amendment passed in Dáil Éireann on 18 February 2004; the consultation he plans to have with non-Government parties in Dáil Éireann in regard to these matters and the wider concerns that have been expressed regarding the security and reliability of the proposed electronic voting system; and his views on whether there is a widespread lack of public confidence in the proposed system. [7130/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 15, 52 and 57 together.

I refer to the reply to Priority Questions Nos. 1 and 2 on today's Order Paper.

Electronic voting and counting will provide a more modern, user friendly and efficient system of voting to the Irish people. The project has been advanced in a considered and thorough way from the enactment of enabling legislation in 1999 and 2001, through the procurement of a proven and robust system, together with comprehensive testing and successful piloting in Irish conditions. The Irish public is strongly in favour of electronic voting: 87% of voters surveyed after the 2002 general election preferred the electronic system to the paper ballot.

The amended motion on electronic voting and counting approved by the Dáil on 18 February provided for: (a) the establishment of an independent body to verify the secrecy and accuracy of arrangements proposed for electronic voting — this body to be appointed in advance of the enactment of the legislation; and (b) legislation to give statutory recognition to this body; to apply electronic voting and counting to non-Dáil elections, to make more explicit arrangements regarding abstention from voting, and to clarify conditions under which tally data may be made available from the electronic counting system to interested parties.

This legislation is being urgently prepared and will be published at an early date. In accordance with the amended motion, the Government has already, on 2 March, appointed and mandated a Commission on Electronic Voting and Counting, with membership and terms of reference as set out below.

Electronic voting and counting is a welcome modernisation of our electoral process. It reflects a broader process of modernisation and an expectation that democratic processes should keep pace with other progressive developments in our society. I am confident that the new system procured by my Department will provide a reliable, efficient and user friendly service to Irish voters.

The membership of the Electronic Voting and Counting Commission is as follows: The Hon Mr. Justice Matthew P. Smith who is Chairman of the Standards in Public Office Commission will chair the Commission. It will also comprise: Mr. Kieran Coughlan, Clerk of Dáil Éireann; Ms Deirdre Lane, Clerk of Seanad Éireann; Dr. Danny O'Hare, Chairperson of the Information Society Commission and Former President of Dublin City University; and Mr. Brian Sweeney, Chairperson of Siemens Dublin Limited and a board member of the Smurfit School of Business. The Secretariat to the commission will be provided by the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The commission's terms of reference are as follows: the Commission, which shall be independent in the performance of its functions, shall prepare a number of reports for presentation to the Ceann Comhairle on the secrecy and accuracy of the chosen electronic voting and counting system, that is, the Powervote-Nedap system; the commission shall make one or more of such reports to the Ceann Comhairle not later than 1 May 2004; the commission's subsequent report or reports will record its views of the operation and experience of electronic voting and counting at elections; in carrying out its work, it will be open to the commission to review the tests already undertaken to validate the electronic voting and counting system, and to have further tests undertaken, it may also retain the service of such consultants or other persons that it considers are desirable; and the commission shall be entitled to invite and consider submissions on such basis as it thinks appropriate.