Election recounts - Small price to pay for democracy

An acrimonious general election recount in the Laois-Offaly constituency cost taxpayers €36,273, but the recount only added four votes to the total of Liam Quinn, the unsuccessful Fine Gael candidate who demanded the recount.

This was not enough to change the outcome of the vote.

On calling for the recount, Mr Quinn was 26 votes behind the total of the next lowest candidate — the outgoing Fianna Fáil Minister of State John Moloney. The recount was justified because errors of more than 26 votes were uncovered.

In addition to the extra four votes added to Mr Quinn’s total count, the recount staff uncovered 31 votes that had been wrongly placed in the pile of Seán Fleming, the Fianna Fáil candidate who eventually won the seat. At that stage of the count he was 587 votes ahead of Mr Quinn, so the mistakes did not have any impact on the actual outcome. But even small mistakes of that magnitude could have impacted on the order of elimination of unsuccessful candidates and that could change the overall outcome in a close count.

The fact that those errors were uncovered highlighted the fallibility of the system. There were also similar discrepancies in the election count in Wicklow, where former minister Dick Roche demanded a recount when he was three votes behind party colleague Pat Fitzgerald. The latter got two extra votes in the recount, and Mr Roche’s total dropped by six. The cost of the recount in that instance was €14,018.

Those recount costs were minimal in comparison with the cost of the overall count. They were also a small price for ensuring the integrity of the count.

With modern technology, however, the election count could be streamlined and the overall cost could be minimised with proper voting machines. In the 2002 general election electronic voting was introduced on a trial basis in three constituencies. This eliminated some of the traditional excitement and uncertainty surrounding the count.

The most valid complaint was that there was no system of verifying the integrity of the count with the voting machines that were used. Nevertheless, the state purchased 7,000 of those machines at a cost of over €54.6 million, including over €3m in storage costs.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen announced in October 2010 that the voting machines would not be used. They would be disposed of, but this has not yet been done. The state is still paying to store those machines.

If we adopted a similar attitude towards other forms of modernisation, such as the revolution in transportation, we would have avoided enormous changes. We would still have the excitement of the horse and buggy, and the aroma of horse manure. Crazy, isn’t it?

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