herald

Saturday 24 August 2019

'Month-long recount a joke' - Flanagan in fresh call for e-voting

Minister Charlie Flanagan
Minister Charlie Flanagan

It is time for Ireland to give electronic voting a second chance, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has said.

He wants the new electoral commission, which is expected to begin work later this year, to prioritise a study of international best practice in the area.

"Coming up to the 20th anniversary of the electronic voting debacle, I think we should revisit it," he told the Herald.

Intolerable

Mr Flanagan believes the possibility that voters in Ireland South may have to wait 28 days for a recount result in the European elections is "intolerable".

He warned there were logistical challenges in "ensuring that everything is absolutely and utterly in order for the duration of the count".

A number of gardai will have to be taken off the beat to provide round-the-clock security for 750,000 votes.

E-voting was first mooted in 1999, and the Fianna Fail government at the time spent €51m on machines.

The system was trialled in three constituencies during the 2002 general election, and in six constituencies for the Nice II referendum.

However, they were decommissioned and sold for scrap after an independent review warned of security issues.

Mr Flanagan acknowledged that the matter was politically dangerous, but said technology had moved on a lot over the past two decades.

"I'm not asking that we re- invent the wheel here," he said.

"We haven't even debated the concept since the debacle 20 years ago. It's time to revisit that."

He said the idea of not having a final result for five weeks was "mind-boggling".

Sinn Fein's sitting MEP Liadh Ni Riada has called for a full recount in Ireland South in a bid to overturn a 326-vote gap between her and the Green Party's Grace O'Sullivan.

The minister said he respected the right of any candidate to seek a recount, especially as a few hundred votes "is not a huge number at all".

Fine Gael's Sean Kelly and Fianna Fail's Billy Kelleher reached the quota in the original count, but will not be able to take up their seats in Brussels until the result is confirmed.

Independents 4 Change's Mick Wallace will take the third seat.

The battle for the fourth and fifth seats is between Fine Gael's Deirdre Clune, Ms O'Sullivan and Ms Ni Riada.

Mr Flanagan said when he heard the recount could take up to 28 days, he thought it was "April 1, or a mistake".

He called on those organising the count to bring in experienced counters from other areas to help speed up the process.

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