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Last Updated: Friday, 27 February, 2004, 16:02 GMT
Irish e-voting marks new era
This year people across the Irish Republic will vote electronically in the European and local elections for the first time. But as BBC NI's Dublin correspondent Shane Harrison reports, there is a great deal of unease about this development.

In many countries elections are all about the campaigns. But sometimes in Ireland it can be just a bit different.

E-voting is almost certain to go ahead in June
E-voting is almost certain to go ahead in June

The fun often only starts with the counting. That is because the state uses a form of proportional representation that allows voters to give a preference to all candidates.

Go to any count centre and you see something unique - Ireland's tallymen and tallywomen.

They stand in a public area, perched on the railings of a count centre, examining every vote that is counted.

They then tick boxes showing which candidate got the number one preference and if they have time they try to see who got the number two, three and so on.

That information is then fed into a party laptop computer to give a general impression of the results.

Great fun maybe for the chattering classes of politicians and journalists, but it can be more than a bit awkward if you are trying to form a government

Then the parties all combine their information to see if they can agree if a trend is emerging.

Inevitably this information from the different count centres fills hours of comment and speculation in television and radio studios across the country as the counting continues.

Counting, you will have gathered by now, takes a long time.

And it is not uncommon for the final result of an election not to be known for a week after polling day.

'Opposition parties'

Great fun maybe for the chattering classes of politicians and journalists, but it can be more than a bit awkward if you are trying to form a government.

So, the Irish Environment Minister, Martin Cullen, has proposed that in June the country should vote electronically (e-vote) in the local and European elections.

The opposition, with the support of many newspapers, wanted voters to be given a print out of their vote so that there would be a paper record of how each ballot was cast, in case evidence emerged of computer malfunction or fraud

Three of the 42 constituencies in the general election two years ago e-voted and it was deemed a great success with results known within hours.

Until recently everybody seemed happy with e-voting.

Then the opposition parties started wondering about how reliable and tamper-proof the computers were.

Josef Stalin's purported comment that "it's not who votes that's important but who counts the votes" has been repeated many times on radio and television.

The opposition, with the support of many newspapers, wanted voters to be given a print out of their vote so that there would be a paper record of how each ballot was cast, in case evidence emerged of computer malfunction or fraud.

The government this week turned down this request, but agreed to appoint a commission to examine the accuracy of the system that, it says, has been used successfully in other countries.

As things stand now, e-voting is almost certain to go ahead in June.

And with it an era will come to an end. Some believe a lot of the fun associated with Irish elections will go too as it becomes a case of "Bye Bye Tallyman and Hello Computer".




SEE ALSO:
Pentagon e-voting plan scrapped
06 Feb 04  |  Technology
UK 'not ready' for e-voting
08 Dec 03  |  Politics


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