THE Government pulled the plug on the e51 million e-voting fiasco yesterday but Environment Minister John Gormley stopped short of apologising for the waste of taxpayers’ money.
Announcing the decision in Cork, Mr Gormley said: “If you find at the end of the day that you can’t use the machines, clearly you have to classify that as wastage of money.”
But he said he did not create the problem. “I did not create this difficulty. I came into office and had to deal with it, and now I am dealing with it. I didn’t rush into the decision. I looked at all options. I hope that I will get credit for this decision,” he said.
He said while he is responsible for the decision now, he is “not in the business of reprimanding colleagues” for trying to introduce e-voting. “It is up to the Taoiseach to make those decisions,” he said.
First proposed by former Environment Minister Noel Dempsey, and introduced by his successor Martin Cullen in 2002, the failed e-voting experiment has cost the taxpayer e51m — not including storage and insurance costs which since 2004 have been estimated at close to e1m a year.
Mr Gormley said it was clear from the report of the Commission on Electronic Voting that “significant additional costs” would arise if electronic voting was proceeded with.
It could have cost up to e28m to fit the machines with a voter-verifiable audit trail system, he said, and that could not be justified in the present circumstances.
And even that would not have instilled public confidence in the system, he said.
“This is not just about money, it’s about the democratic process and you have to have public confidence.
“Even if we had retro fitted the machines, you wouldn’t have that confidence. We had no option but to end the use of the machines.
“The pencil and ballot paper have worked well and people have not complained about it.
“E-voting may have seemed like a good idea but the fact is difficulties were highlighted, not just here but and in Holland and Germany. Those governments decided to act, and now I am acting today.”
A task force will now be appointed to examine the disposal of the e-voting and counting equipment, and will enter talks with the supplier to recoup some costs for the taxpayer. The group will seek to terminate storage contracts where they still exist.
These contracts cost e204,000 last year, and the bill will keep running until these storage contracts expire or are bought out.
However, the minister pointed out that storage costs have been reduced somewhat in the last year after over 60% of the machines were stored in a central location in Gormanstown.
He also said there is still a considerable need for electoral reform which can best be pursued by bringing establishing an independent electoral commission.
He published a report on the establishment of an electoral commission in February. A consultation process on that report is ongoing with submissions to be made to his department by June 26.
The new commission will be responsible for electoral administration, oversight and for implementing modern electoral practices.
It will also revise constituency boundaries, compile a new national rolling electoral register, take over the functions of the Standards in Public Office Commission relating to election spending, and examine the issue of financing the political system.
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