Our columnist Patricia Feehily tells it as it is
HOLD on a minute! This call for the re-introduction of E voting here is freaking me out. I’m allergic to ‘Es’ generally, but the technophobia is making me paranoid. I even feel nervous getting money from the local ATM machine, partly because some microscopic piece of alien technology might be copying my pin number unawares and cleaning out my meagre account. There is also the constant irrational dread that something might reach out from the hole in the wall and grab me by the throat.
That’s exactly how I feel about E-voting. Someone could hack into the system and then everyone would know how I voted. I’d be mortified and very exposed. I mean, I usually promise a vote to everyone who asks and sometimes to those who don’t even ask, and I’d be shown up as an inveterate liar and a desperate hypocrite. There’s no point in assuring me that security would be paramount. The hackers are nearly always one step ahead of the security and, who knows, in between elections we might very well be tempted to let our fire guard down.
The Bank promised me top notch security too, as long as I didn’t allow anyone even a glance at my pin number. I didn’t, but that didn’t stop someone trying to buy an item last year in San Diego using my master credit card. The same card was still tucked up safely in my bag and hadn’t been used for three years before that. Thankfully the bank knew I was a home bird and that I wouldn’t cross the Atlantic without telling the whole world about it.
Then there’s the Russian threat. If the mighty US is so concerned about the Russians getting access to their election paraphernalia, shouldn’t we be alarmed too. Or are we not that important after all?
This renewed interest in electronic voting was triggered a couple of weeks ago by the direful prospect of a lifelong – six weeks - re-count in the Ireland South European election. “Intolerable!” Justice Minister, Charlie Flanagan thundered.
Some of us felt that we mightn’t even live long enough to see the final outcome. Most of us couldn’t care less because all the fun was gone out of the contest by then in any case.
The situation however was the cue for Minister Flanagan to re-activate the debate about electronic voting, prompting some of us to fear that we might lose the franchise because of some inexplicable inability to swipe, tap or even hit a key without the use of a sledgehammer.
Or was that only me? For my part, I couldn’t, for the life of me, see why they couldn’t have employed more counters from the start, seeing that there was an unprecedented list of 17 candidates on the ballot paper – of whom I myself lost count half way through. It was like counting sheep!
I can’t see either why they couldn’t have filtered the contest and whittled the list down to a more manageable number by - as Eamon Ryan suggested - making it a little bit more difficult to get on the paper in the first place. The constituency is a bit unwieldy too – Munster and Leinster politics haven’t really gelled since the days of Brian Boru, and the Golden Vale hasn’t even a new potato in common with Wexford now.
Anyhow back to the E voting! Bertie Ahern spent over €50 million on a few electronic voting machines nearly 20 years ago, after becoming disillusioned with the ‘ould’ charcoal pencils. But the whole endeavour was abandoned when the country couldn’t stomach the sight of a prominent Minister losing her seat instantly in the full glare of the spotlight. We had lost our appetite for the political guillotine and almost immediately decided that we preferred death by a thousand cuts, so to speak.
The bottom line is that I’m not too happy to see this modern demand for instant results – or gratification, if you like – being extended to our electoral practices. I’m a devil for mystique and the polling booth is one of its last bastions. The vote, especially for us women, was too hard won for it to be over in a minute. Anyway where’s the fun in it? Give me a long drawn out count, with all its thrills and spills, errors and misplacements, any day, over a mechanical number-crunching exercise that produces instant results but doesn’t even allow me to follow the progress of my vote. I’d much prefer to continue to have the time to wallow in the dramatic and sometimes totally unexpected possibilities of the count and to marvel at the fascinating skills of seasoned tallymen and women.