BHHRG

About BHHRG

The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
* Examining issues relating to press freedom and freedom of speech
* Reporting on conditions in prisons and psychiatric institutions

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Ireland votes: Observation of the poll
HITS: 1938 | 5-06-2003, 07:59 | Commentaire(s): (0) |
 (Votes #: 0)

BHHRG was able to observe several polling stations on the day of the poll in County Dublin. The principal point of interest was the introduction of a new electronic voting system. Voters present themselves at a desk, as would be customary for any normal vote, and are then issued with a ticket which they take and present to someone sitting next to the voting machine. This enables them to go behind it and cast their vote.
At the beginning of the voting day, a print-out is taken showing that the chip in each voting machine registers zero. Equally, at the end of the day, a print-out is again taken, this time showing the number of votes cast at each voting station, but not the way they were cast. These chips are then physically transported to the central counting office at the Royal Dublin Society, where they are plugged into a central machine and read. The results come out in less than a minute.
Despite the appearance of greater precision which accompanies any technological innovation, questions have been repeatedly raised in other countries about the desirability of such electronic voting systems. Recent experience in the United States of America confirms this: in Broward County in Florida, where a $17 million electronic voting system was installed following the debacle during the 2000 presidential election campaign, two programming errors simply removed over 100,000 votes from the initially reported results. When these errors were corrected, the turnout jumped from 35 to 45%, a massive margin. [1]
It cannot be stressed enough that a major disadvantage in electronic voting systems is that there is no physical trace of how people have voted. It is therefore all the easier for errors to creep in, which cannot then later be corrected, or even for manipulation to be conducted by whoever has control over the central computer.
This problem is exacerbated by the centralization of the count, which occurred in Dublin for the whole of the city of Dublin and the whole of the surrounding County Dublin, an area inhabited by about one-third of the whole population of the Republic. If votes are not counted in polling stations, or at least at the constituency level, then errors can creep in more easily because there is less diversity in the counts. There is also no correlation in the polling station between the number of votes cast and the number of votes counted, even though this is an elementary procedure in most if not all polling stations in the former Communist countries of Eastern and Central Europe. Across the whole of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, indeed, it is extremely rare, in BHHRG’s very wide experience of such polls, for the two figures not to tally at the polling station level. By contrast, when the BHHRG observer at the Irish referendum asked the Sheriff of County Dublin, John Fitzpatrick, what used to be the procedure when the two figures did not tally, he merely shrugged and said, “During all my experience as an electoral returning officer, the number of votes counted never once tallied with the number of votes cast.”
The Republic of Ireland also has problems with electoral registers similar to those in the United Kingdom. Sheriff Fitzpatrick asked the BHHRG observer whether things were as bad in Britain as, in his opinion, they are in Ireland. It is the local council which compiles the lists (as in the UK) and evidently they bring to this task the bureaucratic sloppiness with which they accomplish all their other tasks. It is common for voting forms to be issued for people who are dead, for instance. People are also left off the register who should be on it. During BHHRG’s observation mission, indeed, John Fitzpatrick was called on his mobile because several people who had turned up to vote found they were not on the list; because one of them was the editor of the local newspaper, Fitzpatrick said they should be allowed to vote “for the sake of democracy”. This decision was technically illegal.
The Republic of Ireland, like Northern Ireland, has had problems with people voting more than once, or stealing other people’s voting cards if they are away. This happens because there is effectively no security against it. If a person turns up to vote, he simply has to give his name. No other identification is required because no other identification exists: the Republic of Ireland, like the United Kingdom, has no identity cards. Instead, bibles are placed on the desks of all election officials: if there is a serious disagreement about someone’s identity, the person is either asked to go home and bring some kind of identification or required to swear on the Holy Book. This may be a charming way of verifying identity in a civilized country, and there are certainly issues associated with the issuance of identity cards. But the accumulation of small areas of imprecision, plus the serious disadvantages associated with electronic voting, is definitely causes for concern. There are widespread rumours of multiple voting in the Republic of Ireland and the saying "Vote early, vote often" is often heard. It is said that Fianna Fail are the main culprits.
The results
The official result of the second Nice referendum was 62.89% Yes, 37.11% No on a turnout of 49.47%. The results broke down as follows  :


[1]Source: Referendum Returning Officer for referendums in Ireland, http://www.referendum.ie/current/resultsummary.asp?ballotid=75,

[2]See “Broward vote total off in reporting glitch”, by Evan S. Benn, Miami Herald, and 6th November 2002.

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