Thursday, 4 March 2004

Questions (41)

Mary Upton

Question:

30 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of persons, in respect of the constituencies in the general election and the second Nice treaty referendum in which electronic voting was used, who signed in but did not press the “Cast Vote” button; the reason these were not counted as spoiled votes; the further reason they were not included in the overall turnout figures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7132/04]

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

Electoral legislation on paper based voting addressed the phenomenon of spoilt votes and required returning officers to discard these for the purposes of the valid poll. Aggregated information on such spoilt votes has been published traditionally as part of official election returns, but not as a legal requirement.

Because the electronic voting and counting system is designed to prevent unintended spoiling of votes, the above legislative provisions, based on paper ballots, are explicitly disapplied from electronic voting and counting. Instead, new legislative provisions require a record to be kept of deactivations of the voting machine, in the event that a person approaches the voting machine but departs without pressing the "Cast Vote" button. On the basis of an improvement to the electronic voting machine implemented since the 2002 pilot exercises, records of all deactivations will in future be stored by the machine and be available as part of the election statistics provided by the system.

This recording feature was not incorporated in the version of the machine used in 2002. At the general election and second Nice treaty referendum, returning officers were required to record the incidence of deactivations in polling stations manually. While my Department understands that this manual recording was carried out, aggregate results were not in the event published by returning officers in the official election returns.

In the context of my Department's information booklet on referenda generally, which is published periodically, my Department will seek to include information regarding deactivations in the constituencies which employed electronic voting at the second Nice treaty referendum. From information available from the areas concerned, some 500 deactivations would have been recorded across the seven constituencies, compared with 270,124 votes validly cast.