Saturday, August 9, 2014

Ireland and Northern Ireland push for more e-voting technology

Source: Wikimedia
Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland don't see eye-to-eye on many issues. The relationship between the two can be strained and, for many outsiders unfamiliar with the area, it can also be quite confusing. Whereas Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland is a sovereign state on its own. And even though they may have their differences, it appears that they have at least one thing in common: they both want to increase the use of electronic voting technology.

An article in the Belfast Telegraph recently discussed the accuracy of predicting elections in the area and how “it would be good to have even more information on the innards of the voting system to analyse.” In order to gain this more detailed analytical data, several parts in Northern Ireland are calling for “a system of electronically counting votes.”

By moving to e-voting technology for the tabulation of ballots, far more detail about the voting patterns in different areas could become clearer. It would make it easier to see where party support was coming from and, thus, parties could then better organize their campaign strategies to target perceived “openings” and how they could reinforce their efforts where they were “falling short.” As more data became publicly available and as this data was organized into charts and tables, smaller parties would collect insight that would help make them more competitive against more established parties and politicians.

Of course, using a computerized model of counting ballots would also mean that election results could be reported sooner.

A similar push for e-voting machines and electronic vote counting is being witnessed in the Republic of Ireland as well. While e-voting machines have been “maligned” in the country, Ireland's Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Charlie Flanagan has noted that it takes too long for the results of local and European elections to be reported.

“Counting is taking far too long,” said the Children's Minister. “Electronic voting must be returned to the political agenda.”

In three constituencies during the 2002 Irish general election, electronic voting equipment was used on an experimental basis. Tests were conducted and the equipment was purchased, but the governing bodies of Ireland never expanded the e-voting technology to the rest of the nation. Flanagan feels it is time to revisit this technology and the many benefits it can provide.

E-voting allows for better accessibility for people with disabilities, for instance, and the technology can help to invigorate and energize the youth vote. With countless strange stories coming out of manual voting and manual ballot counting, updating and upgrading to electronic voting can modernize the electoral process and minimize human error.

From Dublin to Belfast, the people of both Ireland and Northern Ireland are rooted in deep tradition. However, the traditions of paper ballots and manual vote counting must be put forth for public debate, opening an opportunity for e-voting to reach both the United Kingdom and the independent Republic of Ireland.