Minister Martin Cullen was on the News at One on Wednesday and was caught by Sean O’Rourke on the topic of the secret ballot. I have gone to the trouble of writing a transcript of the piece from the radio. You can listen to it in Real Audio here.
What I do not understand about this myself, is the fact the the company who makes the machines, PowerVote, say on their website that there is a facility for spoiling, or ‘non of the above’. And yes, that’s their spelling mistake, not mine.
Here is the quote from their website:
3.Now at the machine the voter is prompted via a screen to make their choices. As choices are made these are shown as confirmation in a screen.At this stage if an error is made or a change required to the selection then the CORRECTION button is pressed. If the voter wants to express a vote NON OF THE FOLLOWING then they press the ABSTAIN button. Any abstained vote shows as part of the final result totals.
I am not exactly encouraged by the volume of spelling mistakes on their website, what does that say about their programmers? Along with this is the fact that there IS a facility for a paper trail, but the Minister apparently decided not to go for it. Again here is the quote from the company website:
Q. Is an audit trail available?
A. Yes there has always been this facility within the system. We had to be able to provide this to satisfy the requirements of pilot schemes in the UK.
So the Minister succeeds in being stupid, and strains the truth. Furthermore he seems to allude to something that is not the case, he says: “But the reality of it is that we have had this system tested internationally, in Germany and Holland by respected and renowned international institutes”
That is simply not the case. On Powervote’s own site:
Q. Has the system been tested independently?
A. Independent, internationally accredited test institutes in Holland and Germany carried out rigorous tests of the system prior to certification. This was a requirement by the Dutch, German and Irish Governments, which had to be, satisfied prior to the introduction of the system.
The Irish government did not send it to Europe to get tested – PowerVote apparently had the system tested itself. Might seem like nitpicking, but Cullen is being very underhanded further on in the interview.
Sean O’Rourke: A lot of reservations, Martin Cullen, are being expressed about the wisdom of introducing electronic voting without a matching paper trail.
Minister Martin Cullen: Well I wouldnt say a lot of reservations, I would say there is reservations from some. But the reality of it is that we have had this system tested internationally, in Germany and Holland by respected and renowned international institutes, its been tested in Ireland. I suppose, more importantly in Ireland, over 400,000 people have used the system in the general election in pilot phase and in the referendum. And we know from there that there was no questioning of the integrity of the system following those results. No political party no individual to my knowledge, has check questioned the integrity, and now we are going to roll out the system to the entire country. We have been four years now working on this, making sure it is right, doing all the appropriate testing and indeed checking all of the security systems that are required. And I think its important to point out that, for instance, in the last European election, there was 46,000 spoiled votes, in the last local election there was 21,000 spoiled votes. And indeed over 40 seats were decided in the local elections were decided by less than 50 votes. And we certainly know that the vast majority of people dont go in to purposely spoil their votes. It is done because of bad hand writing, its done because of confusion in filling in the ballot paper. All of this will be eliminated .
Sean O’Rourke: Im not sure a lot of people would agree with that Minister, it is something of a tradition if people want to say a plague on all your houses do precisely that, they spoil their votes. Now you are making that impossible for them.
Minister Cullen: Well were not actually, but I mean I know from many years ago, looking at spoilt ballot papers and indeed so all the political parties do, in the counting of them , and all the different issues that arise. Its quite clear from the vast majority of ballot papers that people were not intending to spoil their ballot papers at all. So people cant
Sean O’Rourke: How do you spoil a vote secretly under the new system?
Minister Cullen: Of course you can. You can go to the polling station, to the polling clerk as one would have always done, be marked off the register, then you get a permit to go to the machine itself. Once you hand in that permit, you are allocated a number, if you dont then, in other words if you dont follow through to vote you are actually recorded as a non vote, therefore a spoiled vote.
Sean O’Rourke: You can actually register a non-vote?
Minister Cullen: You dont actually vote Sean. The fact that you went in, the fact that you registered, you will then come up as having participated in it, but you will not have recorded any vote. In other words its spoiled.
Sean O’Rourke: But I mean somebody must know at a particular point that the machine has not been activated. In other words youve been seen to have left and not
Minister Cullen: Oh no, the machine is individually activated and then shut off after every voter Sean.
Sean O’Rourke: But how does the machine know to shut itself off, because somebody isnt going to vote?
Minister Cullen: Because theres an activator at the machine, there is a returning officer at the machine who switches the machine off.
Sean O’Rourke: So the returning officer knows you dont want to vote.
Minister Cullen: Oh well yknow you just say it yourself, you dont want to proceed any further, and therefore the machine must be turned off after each voter
Sean O’Rourke: Wheres the secrecy in that?
Minister Cullen: Sorry?
Sean O’Rourke: Wheres the secrecy in that?
Minister Cullen: In what?
Sean O’Rourke: In spoiling your vote to have that act known only to yourself.
Minister Cullen: No you can go to the machine Sean, you can actually you can do two things. You can cast your vote, then the machine switches itself off automatically. The person is not standing next to you looking at what you are doing. You can simply say to the returning officer…cast Im switched… and move on. And they do that.
Sean O’Rourke: And are you saying that its not possible for the returning officer to know whether the vote has been used or not?
Minister Cullen: Its a question of someone going in , if they want to deliberately spoild their votes, be registered on the basis that they spoil their vote, thats a fact.
Sean O’Rourke: But they cant do it in total secrecy.
Minister Cullen: No, not on a spoiled vote.
Sean O’Rourke: Thats the whole point Im making.
Minister Cullen: Well its not the whole point really. Because what we are doing a system that is catering for about 99% of the population. Im not going to build machines to cater for 1%, we live in a democracy and its about catering for the vast majority of people in a proper and managed way, and thats what this system does. Far more accurately I might add than that manual voting systems weve had in the past.