Sunday, May 16, 2004
New defenders of our democracy stride out of the e-vote shambles
The endeavour to introduce electronic voting has been a monumental mess.
There is no dressing this one up and the Government should do the decent thing and admit that electronic voting isn't going to happen not any time soon, probably never on these machines and certainly not using the current counting software.
Last Friday's report from the Independent Commission on Electronic Voting systemically sets out how it has been unable to vouch for the testing of the proposed system, its accuracy or its secrecy.
The report raises a whole series of concerns, many of them echoing the criticisms which have been voiced by opponents of the system since it was first proposed.
I suspect that once legal impediments are removed and the full detail of the commission's work is published, its findings will prove even more devastating.
Individuals make a difference, enabled by the Internet:
Margaret McGaley, a Maynooth academic who had done her doctorate on e-voting, pushed on with a campaign of opposition to the proposed system. The taunt "luddite" had been thrown at those of us who had opposed the system before this. Now, however, here was a group from within the IT sector itself.
In fact this e-voting episode is above all else a tale of how this small group of determined technology experts and academics took on the Goliaths of politics and public relations and won the argument. They risked the initial ridicule of some in their own professions and in the media but gradually began to register their point.
Part of the reason for the success of McGaley's group, Irish Citizens for Trustworthy Voting, was that much of the planning and execution of their campaign was done on the web. Particularly interesting was an open discussion list on their website where each day they monitored media converge, discussed their strategy, developed refutations to the minister's case and even drafted their press releases. The transparency of their campaign contrasted sharply with the closed decision-making on the Government side. This was a broad-based campaign which they kept focused on the issues and particularly on their call for a voter-verified audit trail.
Also worthy of an individual mention is a tenacious man called Joe McCarthy. A computer consultant who is also a former expert tallyman, he combined an understanding of technology with a detailed knowledge of our complicated electoral regulations. As well as this mix of skills, he had a forensic approach and a good radio voice, all of which made him very effective in this debate.