TV3’s Vincent Browne is, disappointingly, the latest to jump on the bandwagon suggesting that Ireland ought to take a step backwards and repeat the disastrous attempt to introduce electronic voting.
It’s tempting to reduce the whole sorry episode in our memory to a simple waste of money by Fianna Fáil on an expensive system that, for some nebulous technical reason, couldn’t be used - but there is so much more to it than that.
Electronic voting is a fundamental threat to democracy. Voting machines - and vote-counting machines - are black boxes whose functioning is unknowable and unprovable. They may be programmed to perform correctly during testing, but produce false results on election day. This can be done by any employee of the manufacturer with access to the system during development, or anyone in a position to tamper with the machine - which may be easier than you think (one example: Security Analysis of the Diebold AccuVote-TS Voting Machine).
Furthermore, as anyone who’s been paying attention to the news since last June is perfectly aware, practically the entire Internet is subject to mass surveillance by foreign intelligence agencies, such as the NSA in the US. They intercept deliveries of computer equipment and tamper with them. The US routinely imposes changes of government in other nations by force. What confidence can we have in the integrity - and secrecy - of a ballot conducted using such equipment?
We dodged a bullet when Fianna Fáil screwed up their misguided attempt to bring about this disaster, and we don’t need another bullet to dodge. We might not be so lucky next time.
Frankly, I don’t see the problem with a little bit of suspense that makes for interesting television, and if it makes some people feel irrationally impatient, that’s a small price to pay for democracy.