I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.
Detailed planning and preparations for the countrywide use of electronic voting and counting at the European and local elections are proceeding. To date, 5,190 voting machines have been delivered to returning officers, software has been subjected to continuous testing, training of returning officers and their staff is continuing, and a public education and awareness campaign on the new system is under way. In addition, the Government this week appointed an electronic voting and counting commission to make reports to the Ceann Comhairle, the first to be received not later than 1 May 2004, on the secrecy and accuracy of the Nedap-Powervote system.
My Department and independent local returning officers have exercised responsibility under successive administrations for the safe, accurate and efficient conduct of elections in Ireland. The Nedap-Powervote electronic voting and counting system has been designed, tested and proven in practice to meet these requirements. Systems embodying a so-called voter verifiable paper audit trail have not.
Only a small minority of electronic voting systems in use worldwide incorporate this function. In Brazil, one of the countries which has most extensively adopted this approach, the Superior Electoral Court has now determined that the use of a paper trail should be phased out and reliance should be placed on electronic storage of votes only. Those advocating use of a parallel paper trail in Ireland have offered no evidence or practical experience of how voters interact with this system in the real election situation. In contrast, my Department has piloted the Nedap-Powervote system on two occasions and commissioned surveys demonstrating high voter satisfaction with it.
The accuracy of the electronic voting and counting processes envisaged for Ireland has been extensively tested and verified. Tests involving a comparison of paper ballots and electronic votes have also been carried out and may be repeated as required to provide reassurance on the accuracy of the system. Use of a parallel paper system would involve a dual system in which constant confusion would arise as to whether the electronic data or the paper ballot would represent validly cast votes. In addition, the need to use printers throughout polling day would increase the likelihood of system malfunction, as occurred in a Belgian pilot scheme in 2003, following which the printer function has been abandoned.
With regard to the making available of the election management source code, I have indicated that this matter will be examined later in the year when the system, including a profile to cover presidential elections, will have been fully completed.
Election administration expenses have always been met from the Central Fund rather than voted by the Dáil. Section 37 of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2001 applied this arrangement to the costs of acquiring electronic voting and counting systems. Following a Government decision of 30 October 2002, a letter of intent to purchase the voting machines, subject to certain conditions, issued on 28 January 2003. The commitment to purchase the voting machines was essentially conditional on the conditions in the letter of 28 January 2003 being met. The final contract was signed on 19 December 2003. Some €31.65 million has been spent to date on system hardware. The estimated cost of the system software is €467,000. Training is ongoing and cost details are not yet available. The total estimated cost of the project, excluding training costs, is €44 million, including VAT.
The voter education and awareness campaign is estimated to cost €5 million of which €1 million is VAT. This programme will include approximately €1 million to promote awareness of the polls in June and encourage the electorate to vote. The campaign will also include a mail shot to every household in the country. The cost of the awareness campaign at the general election pilot for electronic voting was €263,000, and not €80,000 as has been wrongly quoted. This is consistent with the cost of the current campaign which is for the whole country and also incorporates the voter awareness campaign and the national mail shot.
The introduction of electronic voting and counting is a desirable modernisation of the electoral system. It will improve the efficiency, speed, accuracy and user-friendliness of elections. It will also eliminate the democratic wastage associated with spoilt votes.