Mr. McCarthy: The size of this system is enormous. We were advised in a report from Nathean Technologies that the source code is some 200,000 lines of code. Dividing that figure by 50, the number of lines per page, two thirds of the source code would occupy a large box, which is a huge volume of written information. There is a salient difference between Nathean Technologies doing a code check and ERS doing a test. ERS actually tests the software using a black box technique whereby they inject votes, run them through the system and watch the results. They are moving all the time, trying to get it dead right. It is still the case that it is not quite dead right. That test process does not include the European volume of votes we were talking about, whereas the presumably excellent code reviews that are done by Nathean Technologies, are desk-checked to see what the software looks like.
This begs the questions that Deputy Gilmore asked of Mr. Groenendaal: how is the software controlled? What is the version control of the software? Are there release notes with each version? Is there a certificate that comes with one of them that states, "This is the software to be used for the June 2004 election"? Having searched through the material I have, I found a single sentence in an appendix from ERS, that states, "IES software certified!". If I am right, it seems that is the certificate. It is a very poor certificate, however, and does not provide much confidence for those of us who are reviewing it, that good and proper things were done to come to the point where accreditation could be given.
It begs a different question: if it is changing every year, must we, perforce, have annual accreditation, testing and certification? If that is going on, year after year, it strikes me as being a primary example of something that should be given to an electoral commission, to be conducted independently of the Executive and the hardware and software providers.
Mr. Callan: The Department is caught in the middle of some of the arguments that are flying around. On the one hand, people are asking why we keep picking over the software and why are we trying to find minor improvements to it. On the other hand, Mr. McCarthy chided us for not being up to the mark in terms of continuous improvement. The position I stated in my opening comments is unequivocal: we are committed now and beyond June 2004 to a process of continuous improvement. We think the electoral system deserves no less. In terms of software technology, it would be lax and complacent of us not to continue at some level a programme of testing, validation and verification of the systems to be employed at elections. That is our commitment and we do not regard it as a sign of weakness.
Chairman: As you will be aware, another vote is being called in the Dáil. Are members happy to leave the questions at that?
Deputy Gilmore: That is a good point at which to wrap it up, Chairman. I wish to thank the Secretary General and others for attending the committee.
Deputy Allen: It is appropriate for us to wrap up the meeting at this stage. As regards the 40 or 41 questions presented by Mr. McCarthy, is there a commitment that they will be answered within a reasonable delay?
Mr. Callan: Absolutely.
Deputy Allen: It would be appropriate to resume on that matter, Chairman.
Chairman: We will decide on that. I wish to thank all the witnesses for attending today's meeting and for dealing so comprehensively with all the questions raised by the members. I hope the four people sitting in the public gallery feel there was no reason for putting them there other than the presence of six officials and it was more appropriate to seat them around the table. I thank the witnesses.
Mr. Steenjtes: Mr. McCarthy referred to 200,000 lines of coded effects. This comes from an international software package and it is also used in Germany. The number of lines for Ireland is 70. The amount of code is much less than used elsewhere.
Chairman: I thank the witnesses. The committee shall suspend until immediately after the vote.
Sitting suspended at 1.50 p.m. and resumed in private session at 2.05 p.m.
Chairman: The joint committee is resuming in public session.
Deputy Allen: There are key questions still to be answered regarding the security and integrity of the electronic voting system. One of the expert witnesses posed 41 important questions to the Department, which has requested time to respond in writing. Therefore, we cannot reach a conclusion regarding the integrity and security of the system. We cannot make a judgment until all questions are answered. As the Department has indicated, it will respond in writing to the questions, we have no choice but to await its response before making a decision based on all the available information.
Chairman: Does the Deputy propose that we await replies from the Department to the questions raised by Mr. McCarthy?
Deputy Allen: Yes, and that we consider all the information available and then make a decision on an informed basis.
Deputy Cregan: I propose a different course of action. From what I have heard over several meetings, I am satisfied with the integrity and security of the system. As I said earlier, it was tried and tested in three different constituencies at the last general election and nobody had any complaint apart from the presentation of the count results, a problem that has been rectified by the Minister and his officials. It is now December and it will probably be February before the Department responds to those questions, a mere three or four months before elections in June. To be fair, all the major parties have agreed in principle that electronic voting should happen. This was agreed months ago. I accept Mr. McCarthy still has concerns and I have no problem with those concerns being addressed and examined by the Department. If, as a result of the Department's responses, the committee feels major difficulties will arise with electronic voting, we will consider the matter again. I propose now that we fully endorse the implementation of the electronic voting system and that we encourage the Minister and his officials to roll out their programme as early as possible.
Deputy Gilmore: If Deputy Cregan persists with that proposal, he will divide the committee and it will become a partisan issue. The result for the Minister will be that he will have to proceed with a new electoral system in the face of opposition. That is not in anybody's interest. I would like the committee to get to the stage of saying that we have examined the system and are satisfied with it. We are not at that stage yet.
The evidence presented today suggests that this country is about to hand over ownership of control of critical parts of the electoral process to private companies. I have repeatedly asked for information on the source code. The basic information under which the system operates is owned by a number of companies, a half a dozen people who effectively control the type of electoral process we will have. I am not satisfied yet.
There is no mad rush to have this system in place for the local and European elections. The Minister set that target but it is not the end of the world if they proceed on the same basis as elections have proceeded down the ages. The system is geared for that. Judging from what we were told about the state of preparedness, it is debatable whether the system is ready to go in June. It might be in our interest that the June elections be held under the old system and that we have more time to examine the electronic system.
The companies promoting electronic voting have drawn attention to its operation in other countries and assert it is working well. I would like the committee to get some political opinion from those other countries. We are nowhere near the all-clear point suggested by Deputy Cregan. I am not prepared to give it the all clear. I agree with Deputy Allen that we should await the responses from the Department. The prudent choice to make is to let the June elections go ahead under the old system and to give more time to satisfying ourselves and the public that the new system is safe and secure.
Chairman: There is another vote in the Chamber. We will suspend for it.
Deputy Kelleher: Before we suspend I would like to make a comment. Both members of and witnesses before this committee have expressed concerns. The Department of the Environment and Local Government is charged with the responsibility of overseeing local and general elections and it would be remiss of us not to endorse the committee's trust in the people involved in overseeing these elections. The longer we delay the more we undermine their ability to implement an electronic voting system which most members of this committee believe should be done. The problem is that some people do not have full confidence in the system, both Department officials and committee members. The matter does not just concern the local and European elections. The local election affords us an opportunity to test the apparatus well and to discover any difficulty or problem prior to a general election.
Chairman: It is six minutes since the vote was called. We will suspend and come back to the issue after the vote.
Sitting suspended at 2.20 p.m. and resumed at 2.25 p.m. Deputy Kelleher: I understand the concerns that some have expressed. Having listened to the views of the witnesses and the Department officials, I believe we should try to support the introduction of electronic voting. Reference was made to the fact that it does not matter if we do not introduce it in time for the local and European elections. However, it should be put in place as soon as possible to expose voters to it and ensure they have full confidence in it before the next general election.
The Department said it would answer in detail the questions posed by Mr. McCarthy. If he has any concerns about the answers, we can invite him to attend the committee again. In the meantime, we should try to express confidence in the Department officials charged with the responsibility of overseeing elections. Nobody is questioning their integrity but one could question their competence if, at the end of our deliberations, we were still delaying in spite of their advice to the contrary and their view that the system will work well.
Deputy Johnny Brady, and others who were elected to Dáil Éireann by the electronic voting system, have expressed confidence in it. Voters in the three constituencies concerned registered no complaints. The only issue at stake was the way in which the results were announced, but the Department has stated it will address this. We could debate this issue and listen to contributions by witnesses forever but we have to make a calculated decision on it. I suggest that we accept Deputy Cregan's proposal.
Deputy Cregan:Deputy Gilmore stated it would not be the end of the world if electronic voting were not introduced. We would be a laughing stock if we were to ask the voters in the three constituencies where it was introduced to return to the manual system. It would have devastating consequences for the integrity of the system. June should be the deadline and it should be implemented at the local and European elections. This will be a big test of the system and we should work towards this.
Deputy Allen: This issue was raised many months ago arising from reservations raised by a group of consultants regarding the 2002 general election. The Minister proceeded with the introduction of the system for the local and European elections without consulting all the parties that will be involved in the elections, nor did he consult the public. It would make a mockery of the hearings we have held if we were not prepared to wait for answers to some of the issues raised by the experts.
The implications will be serious if this is pushed through. We will have a unilateral introduction by the Government parties of a system for voting in elections without full consultation taking place with interested groups. We have a job to do and should complete it. As Deputy Gilmore said, we should talk to people from other jurisdictions that use electronic systems and then issue our findings as quickly as possible.
It would make a mockery of our democracy if the Government parties pushed this through today. The source code is in the hands of six people that we know nothing about and who do not even live in this State. They are salesmen that are selling a product to us.
Chairman: We have dealt with the issue of the source code.
Deputy Allen: It has not been dealt with to my satisfaction. While the verifiable paper trail is a cornerstone of our system, it is not being retained. I have serious reservations about this and I appeal to my colleagues not to divide this committee. We have carried out excellent work and should let it run for a few weeks so that we can all be happy and satisfied that the system is secure.
Deputy Gilmore: We do not have certain information. We do not have replies to the questions Mr. McCarthy raised. I asked the Secretary General for the analysis of the spoiled votes and I think we should have this. While the spoiled vote argument is a strong one, I do not recall it being made when the legislation was introduced. If the Department has carried out an analysis of spoiled votes, we should see it.
My understanding of what the Secretary General said is that the system is still in the process of being improved. The Department does not yet have the final version of what is going to be used in June. If Ireland moves to electronic voting in every polling station there will be no way to come back from it.
I take the point made my Deputy Cregan on the three constituencies where this has been used. I do not think those constituencies can return to paper-based voting. We could have a discussion with the Department or the Minister about an extension of the trial period. For example, the trial could be used to carry out end-to-end testing. A test needs to be carried out working marked ballot papers through the system and maybe the local elections is the ideal way of doing this. The marked ballot papers from a local electoral area could be inputted into the system. While I know it will not give the same result, it would give confidence in the system. This complete test has not been carried out. The local and European elections give the opportunity to further test the system. It would give everyone a longer lead-in to work though some of the difficulties.
It is now the end of December and the elections will be held in June. This will be a large logistical operation. If the Department has not yet finalised the system, I have my doubts whether it is capable of putting it in place by June. We might be doing everybody a big favour is we recommended an extension of the trial period rather than the complete shift over to it.
Senator Brennan: I support my party colleagues and the Minister in agreeing in principle to the introduction of electronic voting. While many questions have been raised, commitments have been made to purchase these machines. I am sure any obstacles can be dealt with.
Chairman: There are two proposals before the committee. The first proposal seeks to postpone the decision until we get further information and replies to the questions raised. Deputy Cregan has proposed an amendment to this.
Deputy Cregan: I propose that we endorse the efforts made to date by both the Minister and his Department. I know they are most anxious to have electronic voting in place across the State from June next. We are doing a disservice to both the public and the Department’s officials by stalling this matter. I propose that we inform the Minister that we fully endorse the immediate implementation of awareness for the public and that we work towards having all polling stations operating electronically in June.
Deputy Gilmore: If this proposal is persisted with, it is going to turn this into a party political issue. Nobody wants to see confidence in the electoral process being further eroded. Genuine concerns have been raised and it is our duty to reflect them. If the Government parties insist on putting a proposal to the committee asking it to fully endorse a system that some of us are unhappy with, we will not support it. Subsequent to this, the introduction of electronic voting in this country will become a party political issue. It will be the introduction of electronic voting by Government parties in the face of opposition from the two largest Opposition parties. While I do not know the experiences of other countries, the majority does not persist with major changes to the way in which elections are conducted in any democracy when the main opposition forces express significant concerns. That is a dangerous road to go down. If it is persisted with, the issue will be contested on a party political basis. That will not be any good for the issue itself or for people's confidence in the system or in those who are proposing it.
Deputy Kelleher: Nobody wants to divide the committee, but I look forward to campaigning against the Opposition parties at local elections on whether electronic voting should be implemented. It is disappointing that party political points have been made on this issue, although not necessarily by Deputy Gilmore. Officials in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government are charged with the responsibility of running elections - that is a fact of life. They are trying to bring in a system that will make elections more efficient, easier to hold and easier to count and, in the event of a recount or any challenge, smooth matters considerably.
The officials will answer the concerns raised by Deputies of the Opposition parties, but this will delay the implementation of a system that will benefit everybody. It will not be introduced before the next elections and then there will be a problem if there is a general election. The confidence of individuals or the Opposition may not be there so the general election will be delayed again. Commitments have been made and the people that have voted electronically have embraced the system. We would be doing a disservice to them, to the members of the committee and to the officials of the Department who have expressed confidence in the system.
Chairman: To be fair to the Minister, when the legislation was introduced in 2001 that enabled us to hold elections with electronic voting, there was general support for this. The system appeared to be a success in the three pilot constituencies. No great concern was expressed at the time except about the manner in which the results were announced. People talk about lack of consultation, but the best manner of consultation was the pilot scheme. To accuse the Minister of not consulting is not entirely accurate. We cannot stay here all afternoon and there is no reason for us to repeat over and over what we have done.
Deputy Allen: Nobody is against the introduction of electronic voting in principle. I am concerned about the technology being used, the security of the system and the ability to verify the system. Those are my concerns, which have been expressed again today. Having invited people in who went to the trouble of presenting detailed submissions, we are now pressing ahead on a political basis without ensuring their concerns are responded to. It is a serious matter if this is pushed through today on a political basis because it will become an issue.
Deputy Kelleher: Delay will become an issue.
Deputy Allen: It will not be about who is in favour and who is not in favour of electronic voting, but the security of the system.
Deputy Cregan: It was proved to be viable at the last election in three different constituencies. The security and integrity of the system was not in question.
Deputy Allen: I remind Deputy Cregan of the Zerflow report and the concerns expressed about the proposed system.
Chairman: We have the proposal from Deputy Allen and an amendment from Deputy Cregan.
Deputy Gilmore: It would pity to divide the committee on this issue. Deputy Cregan should withdraw his proposal so we can discuss a way of extending the trial.
Deputy Cregan: No.
Deputy Gilmore: It would be a useful exercise to work through the concerns that have been expressed by members of the committee and by people appearing before it. It would not mean an about-face for anybody.
Chairman: As has been pointed out, the Minister has already entered into contracts for the machines and in the public relations side of things.
Deputy Gilmore: That does not reverse it at all.
Chairman: It could cause certain difficulties.
Deputy Gilmore: The committee has heard evidence from people who know about computers that they are concerned about this system and they do not regard it as safe.
Deputy Cregan: Some people have said that. There are as many more who do not have the same concerns. It is a matter of opinion.
Deputy Allen: We have heard their opinions and concerns.
Deputy Cregan: We have heard their opinions, as has the Department.
Deputy Gilmore: We have heard about the three constituencies in which the system was tested during the general election. The problem is that we do not know the results of the test because there is no paper record. We are all operating on the basis of trust. We do not know whether there were glitches or errors or bugs in the voting machines because there is no record.
Chairman: To be fair, Mr. McCarthy did not have only 40 questions - there were perhaps 100 more questions contained within his questions. He expressed his main concerns about it and raised a number of issues that were dealt with by the other representatives, perhaps in a rather comprehensive fashion. It is not as though he has concerns that have not been addressed. He might not be happy with the responses he received, but the Secretary General and the experts who accompanied him dealt with a number of his concerns.
Question put: "That the joint committee endorse the efforts on electronic voting made to date by both the Minister and his Department."
Deputy Gilmore: Vótáil.
Chairman: As there are fewer than 12 members present, under Standing Orders we are obliged to wait eight minutes until the full membership is present before proceeding to take the division. As there is a vote in the Dáil we will suspend until it is finished.
Sitting suspended at 2.47 p.m. and resumed at 2.56 p.m. Chairman: We will proceed with the division.
The joint committee divided: Tá, 9; Níl, 4.
Deputy John Cregan.
Deputy Noel Grealish.
Deputy Michael Moynihan.
Deputy Mildred Fox.
Deputy Billy Kelleher.
Deputy John Moloney.
Deputy Seán Power.
Senator Michael Brennan.
Senator John Dardis.
Deputy Bernard Allen.
Deputy Éamon Gilmore.
Deputy Pádraic McCormack.
Senator John Paul Phelan.
Question declared carried.
Chairman: The proposal is agreed and the text will be conveyed to the Minister.
I remind members that the select committee will consider Committee Stage of the Residential Tenancies Bill 2003 on Wednesday, 21 January 2004. This is a substantial Bill and I suggest we consider it again on Thursday, 22 January 2004.
Today the joint committee was due to meet officials from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to get an update on two EU documents, COM (2003)18 and COM (2003)32, dealing with the safety of nuclear installations and the management of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste. The joint committee will now meet these officials on Wednesday, 7 January 2004.
I wish all members of the committee and their families a peaceful and happy Christmas and new year and look forward to seeing them in January. I thank the officials for their help during the year.
The joint committee adjourned at 3.25 p.m. until 11.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 7 January 2004.