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State seeks a buyer for vote machines that cost us €60m

WANTED -- a buyer for thousands of useless electronic voting machines.

Environment Minister John Gormley has revealed that the State is going to place adverts seeking buyers for the controversial e-voting machines in newspapers in the near future.

Earlier this summer he took the decision to end the continued storage of the 7,000 machines, which have cost the taxpayer close to €60m in total.

"There may be an opportunity to get some money back for the machines," he said.

Disposal

The Comptroller and Auditor General's report said Nedap (the supplier of the machines) had agreed to take back the machines it had supplied to the Dutch government for disposal. But it said it was not yet possible to determine whether any money could be recovered here by the disposal.

The Government had considered updating the e-voting machines, putting in an audit trail such as a paper print-out of votes, and rolling them out nationally.

But Mr Gormley said it would have cost an extra €28m to make the machines foolproof in terms of hardware and particularly software. And it was unlikely even then that there would be sufficient "voter buy-in", he said.

"The original decision to buy was taken before we entered Government," he said.

The only interest expressed in the machines so far is from a TV company called The Farm which wants to put them in every school around the country to display some of its educational products.

The Comptroller and Auditor general's report found that the Government was trying to cut down on the storage costs, particularly in the seven locations where a firm of consultants recommended termination of the contracts.

In Cavan-Monaghan, a lease costing €16,800 per annum is due to run until 2029. A lease in Cork city, costing €25,200 each year, is due to run until 2024.

The Department of Environment confirmed last night that it was planning to terminate the contracts in both cases, as well as in properties in Waterford and Kerry. It is keeping e-voting machines in storage in five other private locations -- Dublin city, Meath, Longford, Westmeath and Laois/Offaly. Other machines are stored in an army hangar in Meath.

The e-voting machines were used during the 2002 general election and in the second Nice Treaty referendum. But they were put into storage due to concerns about the potential to interfere with them and the lack of a proper audit trail.