Has our Minister for Environment lost it completely?

The Irish Green Party recently entered coalition with the Fianna Fail party to form a government in Ireland. As part of this coalition, we now have a Green Party TD (member of parliament) as Minister for the Environment.

Today, Mr Gormley came out in favour of Electronic Voting. Well, actually that isn’t entirely correct.. he has stated that he would like to see electronic voting in Ireland and would not like to abandon the investment made in the e-voting machines we have in mothballs if they can be adapted to secure public confidence.

He appears to have missed the breaking news from the Netherlands where the Courts have ruled that the use of their e-voting machines is illegal because they can be hacked.

Personally I think that the Minister should step back from the white elephant of these e-voting machines and take a look at the information quality requirments of the entire election process.

  1. Our Electoral Register is in a shambles. A key root cause is the design of the electoral register forms… they are simply appalling and do not capture information in a clear and error-proofed manner. A holistic Information Management strategy needs to be developed and implemented, along with adequate governance, funding and resources to help ensure high quality of information in the Electoral Register. This will likely require changes to legislation to allow for improvements in the Electoral Register processes and to clarify responsibilities and accountabilities for the management of this critical information.
  2. A clear and unbiased view needs to be taken of how best we can ensure a verifiable voting process so that votes dont’ go missing, get tampered with or are just not counted. Pencil and paper means that voters who mark the box with their preference can see their preference going into the ballot box… that is a level of confidence in the process that currently isn’t matched by e-voting.

Rather than continuing to piss around with the e-voting machines, I would much rather the Minister take a strong leadership stance as regards the quality of the Electoral Register and its related processes. His predecessor tried to pass the buck and it would seem Mr Gormley hasn’t yet grasped the reins (sorry for mixing my metaphors like that). The investment in the key set of master data for our electoral processes – the Register of Electors – would be a much better spend of (increasingly constrained) government funds (ie the funds we taxpayers provide).

In business people take investment decisions every day and spend money with the goal of making more back. But every day business managers have to draw a line under poor investments and walk away from the business idea to spend their resources on more valuable opportunities. Seeking to spend more money on a bad idea in the hope that enough money might make it a good idea is just bad business. A number of people I know, myself included, have walked away from business ideas because they weren’t working or could not be made to work with the resources available. Yes it is a pain in the arse, yes there is a sense of failure, but at least you can move forward knowing you have made a tough decision and can learn from it.

Or perhaps Minister Gormely is auditioning for a part in a remake of Monty Python & The Holy Grail? How many castles will we need to build in the e-voting swamp before they stop sinking?

I built this kingdom up from nothing. When I started here, all there was was swamp. Other kings said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show ’em. It sank into the swamp. So, I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So, I built a third one. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp, but the fourth one… stayed up! And that’s what you’re gonna get, lad: the strongest castle in these islands.

Investing in key infrastructure and assets (the electoral register and its related processes and governance) which will be used either in the ‘as is’ world (pencil and paper voting) or the ‘to be world’ (the utopia of secure and seamless e-voting) is a better investment of resources.

Chasing the Fianna Fail pipe dream of e-voting simply because it is what the bigger boys at the Cabinet table want you to smacks of an inability to see the wood for the trees and prioritise what will work in the lifetime of the Government (improving the Register and its governance) over what will never work in the lifetime of the Government (e-voting machines).

2 thoughts on “Has our Minister for Environment lost it completely?”

  1. Elsewhere you said….

    “The first step in ensuring information quality of the Irish electoral register should be a thorough assessment of the number of people who claim to have been disenfranchised at polling stations on 24 May 2007. There is an urgent need to identify definitive issues so that we can begin to address the risk of electoral fraud and voter dissatisfaction that an inaccurate electoral register presents.”

    Have you asked Gormley when he will be doing it??

  2. Barry,

    Alas I haven’t had a chance – but as you’ve prompted me I may have to dig out the old writing pen and dash off a question or two.

    However, via a contact of mine in the Labour party, his predecessor received a quick report I’d bashed out analyzing the situation from the perspective of Information Quality best practices. I suspect it may have been filed in the cylindrical filing cabinet under the desk.

    I have spoken to some of the people tasked with trying to address these issues and, without going into specifics, they could be described as being a tad frustrated at how this issue has slipped back down the agenda.

    Particularly with Local Elections coming up in the next 18 months or so.

    Sadly the whole thing is a frickking shambles, and i encourage you read the paper I did which is here if you want to see more about my thoughts on the issue.

    I also did a presentation on the issue to the IQ Network (www.iqnetwork.org), which is a collaboration between the Irish Computer Society and the IAIDQ (International Association for Information & Data Quality – http://www.iaidq.org). There are some slight inaccuracies in it as regards the precise governance and roles that are currently in place for managing the register, but it touches on some of the problem issues (including the design of the form). Presentation is HERE

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