Journalists: Here Is An Actual E-Voting Story

Damien Blake, a FF County Councillor from Donegal appeared in today’s Sunday Times for stating the obvious- that the electronic voting system the government spent €52 million on buying and continues to spend €2000 euro a day storing should never be used. “I am unaware of any impartial, independent person who knows what they are talking about, who is willing to back using the system we have in any form for a future election.”, he says. It’s good that his comments have been picked up and spread more widely.

But there are some other, more significant, comments that also deserve to have public attention drawn to them. Taken together, these indicate that far from an anticipated cost of €500,000 the Taoiseach suggested in the Dail, the government is committed to spending a further €18 million, while also failing to address the main objection to their evoting system. Here’s Colm McCarthaigh from Irish Citizens for Trustworthy Evoting.

“Nearly two years ago I told the Minister that if he tried to bring in E-voting without a VVAT, we will sue the Government. Has that cost been accounted for? With the latest attacks on voting secrecy with the system, our constitutional case only strengthens and other precedents become even more clearly involved.” (link)

Colm goes on to outline the reasons why the estimate of €500,000 which the government has been using in the Dail to justify keeping this white elephant on life support is inaccurate. Not included in that half a million euro software development cost is the cost of changing the machines to meet the Commission on Electronic voting’s security recommendations. The government has committed itself to making those changes. Colm says

“Nedap, the machines manufacturers, themselves pointed out that it will be costly to retrofit the e-voting units with the neccessary changes pointed out by the commission (the Government seem to be in complete denial that major hardware changes were recommended, while simultaneously having committed to implementing all of the recommendations of the Commission on Electronic Voting) would cost a lot of money.” (link )

How much money? Well here’s a quote from the Irish Times, 7th July 2006:

“Similar work to that suggested in the report cost nearly €2,500 per machine during an upgrade of 1,000 of the machines three years ago, although no estimate has been given on the cost of the current work… [Henk Steentjes, chief technical officer of Nedap, the Dutch company that made the system said] “There is a magnifying factor, even with a small change,” he said. “You have [ more than] 7,000 identical machines, these are stand-alone units, and any change that is made has to be made 7,000 times.” (link)

Who’s keeping count? That’s 7,000 x €2,500= €17,500,000

That seems like a very large number to forget to tell the Dail about, doesn’t it? But there’ll be more on top of that. Colm again:

“Not only that but the Commission recommended that there be procedural, administrative, training and security changes, all of which will cost money and remain unaccounted for. And even then, we still suspect that the e-voting system is more costly to run on a per-election basis anyway, it requires more staff and all of those storage costs. To actually implement the system would cost tens of millions of euro, and would still not be deserving on any confidence…. These changes don’t even cover the central issue – a voter verified audit trail, an issue which the government did not allow the Commission to examine – or defend against the RF snooping attack I saw demonstrated just 2 days ago.”

At the Blogging the Election conference a few weeks ago one of the reoccurring themes was the failure of Irish journalism to hold those in power to account. Damian Blake said how shocked he’d been to discover that local papers will just print a press release as a story. Journalists in attendance explained how the pressure of deadlines and the cost of long term investigations results in major stories being passed over because they would take too long to uncover.

On the 17th October the Taoiseach stood up in the Dail and told the House that

“It [The Commission on Electroinic Voting] was quite satisfied that the hardware, that cost the money, can work and operate effectively. … We have to correct the software, which will cost €500,000 and try to move forward. Otherwise, this country will move into the 21st century being a laughing stock with our stupid old pencils.” (link)

I suppose the phrase “try to move forward” must include the spending of a conservatively estimated €17.5 million further euro. Funny he didn’t elaborate on that.

I hope that this modest collection of information, all already in the public domain, might catch the eye of one of those time pressed journalists we heard about as they’re on their way to Grafton street to photograph Glenda Gilson and prompt them to ask some questions.

For example:

  • Does the government intend to spend a further €18 million on these evoting machines?
  • What is their estimate of the cost for the total cost of use and ownership of these machines?
  • As spending all that money won’t meet the need for a voter verified audit, how do they intend to defend themselves from the legal challenge to it?
  • Do they really mean to spend whatever it takes to use these machines, or just waste enough to pretend they mean to use them until after the election?
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