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Justice Minister says 28 day wait for result in EU election is 'mind-boggling'

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has raised the prospect of a return to electronic voting.

Amid the fallout of a lengthy recount in the Ireland South constituency, Mr Flanagan has put the controversial electronic method back on the agenda. He wants the new electoral commission, which is expected to begin work later this year, to prioritise a study of international best practice in the area.

That's despite the €51m debacle surrounding e-voting machines two decades ago, which haunted subsequent Fianna Fáil governments.

"Coming up to the 20th anniversary of the electronic voting debacle, I think we should revisit it," Mr Flanagan told the Irish Independent.

The minister believes the idea of voters in Ireland South waiting another 28 days for a result of the European Parliament elections is "intolerable".

He also warned there are "logistical challenges ensuring that everything is absolutely and utterly in order for the duration of the count".

A full recount will get under way in Cork tomorrow as just 326 votes separate the Green Party's Grace O'Sullivan and outgoing Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada for the final seat.

A number of gardaí have been taken off the beat to provide round-the-clock security for the 750,000 ballot papers.

The "mind-boggling" delay in Ireland South has prompted the minister to speak out on the politically fraught topic.

He thought the announcement stating the recount could take 28 days was an "April Fool or mistake".

"If it's a question of resources immediately available in Cork then I suggest all counties send in a team and complete the counting within a week," Mr Flanagan said.

It is estimated the recount will cost in the region of €1m.

Based on the size of constituencies in the European elections, Mr Flanagan predicts that lengthy counts will occur more frequently unless the way votes are cast is altered.

An e-voting system was trialled in three constituencies during the 2002 General Election and in six constituencies for the Nice II referendum. Millions was spent on storage but the machines were sold off in 2012 for just €9.30 each.

But Mr Flanagan said: "I don't believe because of one very bad experience that we should turn our back on digital technology."

Mr Flanagan acknowledged the previous attempt at e-voting went badly wrong - but said technology had moved on a lot over the past two decades.

But he told the Irish Independent: "I'm not asking that we reinvent the wheel here. We haven't even debated the concept since the debacle 20 years ago. It's time to revisit that.

"These long counts are here to stay. Ireland South, massive constituency, and the voting has presented us with a problem.

"Meanwhile, Europe moves on, seats are taken, the parliament is convened. We spoke about the importance of the election in the context of Brexit and Europe, given 90pc of people in Ireland are wedded to Europe family," he said.

Sinn Féin's sitting MEP Ms Ní Riada called for a full recount in a bid to overturn a gap with the Green Party's Ms O'Sullivan.

The minister said he respected the right of any candidate to seek a recount, especially as a few hundred votes in this scenario "is not a huge number at all".

Fine Gael's Seán Kelly and Fianna Fáil's Billy Kelleher reached the quota in the original count but will not be able to take up their seats in Brussels until the final result is confirmed.

Independents4Change's Mick Wallace will take the third seat. The battle for the fourth and fifth seats is between Fine Gael's Deirdre Clune, Ms O'Sullivan and Ms Ní Riada.

Mr Flanagan, who is Fine Gael's director of elections for Ireland South, expects Ms Clune to hold her position regardless of the recount.

He called on organisers to bring in experienced counters from other areas to help speed up the process.

"If it's a question of resources immediately available in Cork, then I suggest all counties send in a team and complete the counting within a week," Mr Flanagan said.

The minister said people need to acknowledge the "mammoth constituency stretches from the Dublin suburbs to Valentia Island in Kerry".

He noted that only 50pc of the electorate actually voted in the election, which had 23 candidates on a 2ft-long ballot paper. "We could have had 50 candidates and an 80pc turnout," Mr Flanagan said.

"Over that 20-year period since electronic voting was introduced, e-government has changed dramatically.

"In my own area, we have e-evidence, licensing laws and courts permits. Ireland has changed because of the digital revolution.

"We're going to have an electoral commission by end of year. I would urge that commission, once set up, to establish a group to look at international best practice. These could include paper/ electronic hybrid."

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Kevin Doyle

Quelle/Source: Independent, 03.06.2019

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