Dáil Éireann - Volume 568 - 17 June, 2003

Priority Questions. - Electronic Voting.

  75. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the position regarding the introduction of electronic voting; and the steps he has taken to ensure the security of the system given that concern was raised by consultants regarding the security of the system used in the 2002 general election. [16800/03]

  Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. Gallagher): It is planned to use electronic voting and vote counting on a countrywide basis at the European and local elections in June 2004. The security assessment report on threats to the external physical features of the voting machine, referred to in the question, was commissioned by my Department in March 2002 before the system was used in three constituencies at the general election of 2002. The issues in that report were considered by the Department and measures were taken, where necessary, to deal with the issues raised. The authors of the security assessment report have recently expressed satisfaction that the actions and measures implemented by my Department in the use of the system meets any concerns expressed in their report.

  Mr. Allen: I wish the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government a speedy recovery – I understand he is indisposed.

[1039]  Does the Minister of State agree that placing an order costing €35 million for a new system of electronic voting, without discussing the system being proposed with any of the other parties in this House, was a form of dictatorship and arrogance? Can he guarantee to the House that the security codes proposed for this system are under the control of the Government rather than that of a third party? Why did his Department not submit to an Oireachtas committee the details of this system before an order was placed? Will he now agree to make all details regarding the electronic voting system available so that it can be examined and assessed by the other political parties in this House?

  I am concerned that the security code for the system is not available and is under the control only of the company supplying the system. A party that would fiddle around with the electoral system without consulting other parties is going down the slippery slope of dictatorship.

  Mr. Gallagher: I am sure the Deputy would accept that this is not a question of dictatorship or arrogance. It is important we have a system in place that is foolproof. This matter has not been discussed with my parliamentary party but it has been discussed with the experts and within the Department. When further progress has been made, there will be an opportunity later in the year – I offer that today – possibly in the autumn, for a full briefing with all the parties, the parliamentary parties and officials within them.

  Lest the wrong impression is given, this report, which received much publicity some time ago, related to the physical aspect of the machine in the polling station. The machine had already been tested by international testing institutes, one in Holland, the TWO, and the software was tested in Germany by PTB. Zerflow was asked only to examine the security in the polling station, and that was examined. We merely wanted to get an objective view about where the machine should be placed in the station to ensure that it would be in view at all times of the returning officer and the polling clerk, that it would never be out of their view. Instructions were sent to the presiding officer and the polling clerk regarding where it should be placed in his or her view during the poll and that only a voter is allowed to go to the voting machine except in cases when a person is permitted to accompany a voter.

  We have asked for advice on the codes and we are satisfied that the architectural and code review will be done by a private third party of the software for the count and election set up. That is currently in progress. I would be delighted to keep the other parties informed, particularly Deputies Allen and Gilmore and any other Member who wishes to be kept up to date. In the autumn there will be a full briefing. When such a briefing was available prior to the general election not too many were interested in it. That is probably understandable. I am talking about the [1040]masses of the Members. Some Members were interested, but this system was installed in only a few constituencies at that time. I understand why not too many would have been interested because the system did not pertain in many constituencies. However, in the last referendum the system was in place in seven constituencies and it worked extremely well. Zerflow indicated only recently at a meeting in the Department that any concerns expressed in its report had been met by action taken or procedures employed in the polling stations.

  An Ceann Comhairle: The time allocated for this question is concluded.