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Ireland to scrap e-voting plan

Accuracy and secrecy in question

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The Irish government is likely to call a stop to plans to introduce electronic voting because they can't prove the system is reliable.

Prime minister Bertie Ahearn asked for an independent investigation after opponents raised doubts over the reliability and accuracy of the system. The Commission on Electronic Voting published its interim report today, recommending that the government not implement the system as it is since the constant updates to the software mean it cannot be tested in time.

This is bound to be embarrassing for the prime minister: he has spent over €40m on the scheme so far, including running pilot tests in local elections two years ago and embarking on a publicity drive to sell the idea to the voting public.

In its report, the Commission wrote that despite the many benefits of electronic voting that the system can provide, the accuracy and secrecy of the ballot are still in question. It says it has not been able to test the system sufficiently for it to be used in forthcoming elections.

Software testing is proving a contentious issue. The report states:

- as changes are made to the system, each new software version needs to be reviewed and tested in full before it can be relied upon for use in real elections,

- it has not been possible for the Commission to review the impact of the changes made in successive versions of the software in time for inclusion in this report,

- the fact that new versions of the software continue to be issued in the run-up to the June elections is unsatisfactory

The commission identifed the key points that need to be addressed before it can green-light the project. Most importantly, there must be a final definitive version of the software and all related hardware and software components; there then needs to be a full independent review and testing of the final source code - further modifications at this stage would mean the whole systems would need retesting. It also called for the system to be tested in parellel with a paper ballot, "including where possible in a live electoral context".

However, the Commission was clear that it had not shown the e-voting system would not work, just that it couldn't show that it would work. It also acknowledeged that it was easier to find reasons to recommend against implementing the system than to support it. ®

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