2060: They’ll get a kick out of hearing how we voted on paper

Ahead of a by-election in Cork this Friday, Trevor Laffan looks at our 'outdated' voting methods
2060: They’ll get a kick out of hearing how we voted on paper
COUNTING BY HAND: Counting votes in the recent plebiscite for a directly elected Lord Mayor in Cork at the City Hall. Picture: Dan Linehan

I KNOW I’m going to sound like my grandfather; nevertheless, I have to say that the world is a different place to what it was when I was a child. Especially since the introduction of the internet.

That has been the biggest influence on modern living since the invention of electricity, but unfortunately, not everyone has access to it.

When I was growing up, in the sixties, life was pretty basic by today’s standards, but we didn’t know any different. We had everything we needed, and we were grateful for that and while it couldn’t be described as a privileged upbringing, we were happy.

It was a time when phones were being introduced into our homes, street lighting was new and exciting. TV was on the way and even though broadcasting only started about four in the afternoon and finished at midnight with the national anthem, we were thrilled. Everything was in black and white, but that didn’t matter.

Colour was introduced gradually, and this was huge. Maire de Barra, a continuity announcer with Radio Telefis Eireann would tell us what programme was due on next and with a big smile she would say “and it’s in colour.” We didn’t see anything wrong with the world as it was then and as a kid, I was happy with my lot. I couldn’t imagine how life could get any better. Dunlop even introduced a new timber tennis racquet, the Maxply, and surely, we couldn’t improve on that.

But of course, we did, and we have witnessed huge advancements in technology since then but access to the internet is still problematic for many.

I often wonder what our grand kids will be saying in 2060 about growing up in 2019. Will they look back at this time and wonder how they even survived the experience, or will they remember it fondly?

They’ll tell their children about how poor the Internet was and that it was only available in certain parts of the country. And how some people even had to drive a few miles to find a spot where they could get a signal to send an email. They probably won’t believe it.

By 2060, the technology may exist to plank a satellite strategically over Ireland to provide the Internet for everyone without digging up half the country but as of now, that’s what we’re planning to do at an enormous cost to the taxpayer.

There will be other changes too, especially in the way we select our candidates for public office. The system we’re currently using seems silly even now so our grandchildren will get a great kick out of hearing the stories of how people voted back in the day.

They will be told that in 2019, we closed the schools so the citizens could pile into empty classrooms across the country to vote. Voters put an X on a two-foot long piece of paper that was then hauled off to another location where hundreds more citizens spent days counting these bits of paper to find a winner.

They won’t believe we had over seven and a half metric tonnes of paper in one of the count centres in Cork after the European election. They’ll have a good chuckle at us, and they’ll be right.

When I walked into my polling station on May 24 last, I was taken aback. I was given three pieces of paper. One for the divorce referendum which was straight forward with a choice of two boxes to tick, yes or no. The second one was for the local elections and had a bigger choice, but it was the third one that took the biscuit.

The ballot paper for the European election was two feet long with twenty-three names on it. It was like a roll of wallpaper. By the time I got to Mick Wallace, who had the misfortune to be at the bottom, I was exhausted.

That paperwork caused huge logistical problems for the people counting the votes. They had to sub- divide the papers into separate groupings or they would never have got through the process.

Then there was a recount in Cork which some predicted could last until the end of time at a cost of €1 million. Thankfully it was sorted quicker than that.

They will find all that hard to believe, but wherever they hear about it, it’s unlikely they’ll be reading it in a broadsheet or tabloid newspaper because the Internet has changed everything. Young people don’t buy papers, they get their news online but they’re not the only ones using that medium.

Many of us do our banking online, communicate with friends and relatives online, organise holidays, book flights, arrange accommodation and rent cars all online. We get our passports, drivers’ licences, motor tax and insurance through the Internet too. We have passwords that allow us to do it securely and it works fine so why can’t we vote online and save paper and man hours.

An attempt was made to introduce electronic voting in 2002 in three constituencies. It worked well as far as I can remember, and the votes were counted quickly but when it came to rolling it out across the country, we chickened out.

We couldn’t possibly trust these voting machines because there was no proper auditing and no paper trail and no tallymen, so it was decided to scrap the idea in favour of pouring back into the classrooms with our lead pencils.

A lot has changed since then and the time has come to look at this option again. Our young people live their lives online and if we expect them to engage in the democratic process, then we must meet them at their level. They are the future and the future for them is the Internet.

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