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A lack of public confidence in e-voting means that Ireland may be forced into writing off its €50m investment in electronic ballot systems.

Michael Noonan, chairman of the Dail Public Accounts Committee, expressed doubts that the current system will ever be introduced, after last year's debacle where plans to initiate e-voting were scrapped over security concerns, the Irish Times reports. Even if the system is found to be safe, few ministers would give it the go-ahead because the public would have little trust in it, he told the newspaper.

Noonan made his comments ahead of an inquiry into expenditure on the e-voting initiative. Officials from the Department of Environment are due before the committee today to answer criticisms over the the scheme.

The civil servants are likely to be subjected to a serious grilling on why security concerns were not addressed before €50m was spent on e-voting systems. The storage of the unused e-voting machines is estimated to cost Irish taxpayers up to €2m per annum.

Fine Gael, Ireland's biggest opposition party, has attacked the Government over the fiasco. "The criticisms contained in the report of the Independent Commission on Electronic Voting make it clear that this was a fiasco of the highest order," Fergus O'Dowd TD, Fine Gael spokesman on the Environment, said. "Considering all the information that is available to him, Minister Roche needs to fully explain the findings of these inquiries."

"Is it now the case, as feared, that the government will have to write-off the €50m spend on electronic voting because of the botched handling of the project? I will be raising the issue through Fine Gael's priority questions in the Dail early next week. The Minister must give some definite answers."

The Irish government had planned to introduce e-voting at local and European elections on 11 June 2004. But it abandoned the idea, following a report of the Independent Commission on Electronic Voting (ICEV) which raised doubts over the accuracy of the software used in the system.

According to the Irish Citizens for Trustworthy Evoting (ICTE) submission to the commission, the Nedap/Powervote electronic voting system had a fundamental design flaw because it had no mechanism to verify that votes would be recorded accurately in an actual election. Consequently, results obtained from the system could not be said to be accurate, ICTE said.

Other flaws identified included possible software errors and the use of the graphical user interface programming language Object Pascal for a safety-critical system.

Although ICEV's remit was advisory, the government accepted its recommendation that the system should not be used until further testing had established the effectiveness of its security.

© ENN

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