Hill Times Article on Internet Voting

February 1st, 2010

The following article from this morning’s edition is reprinted with the kind permission of the Hill Times.

Online voting won’t hike youth turnout, but “it grows on you,” forum told

Electronic voter registration will be the first step in Canada, although Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand is authorized to explore “alternative voting methods”.

By ALICE FUNKE

MPs and party officials joined a group of academics and election administrators at Carleton University last Tuesday, to learn from Canadian municipalities and other countries who have already implemented internet voting (i-voting).

The symposium brought together experts from Estonia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, California, and officials from three Canadian municipalities, all of whom have included some form of online voting in their recent elections.

Elections Canada participated in the event as part of its mandate to study voting technologies and encourage youth voter participation. Ironically, researchers addressing the forum all reported that i-voting did not on balance increase turnout among younger voters, but rather was especially high in 40 to 50 year-olds.

Estonia, dubbed “E-stonia” by one presenter because internet access there is a legislated social right, is the only country where remote i-voting is in place on a national scale. It works because of the country’s widespread adoption of secure digital government ID cards for every citizen. The country is also trying to make smart card readers standard equipment on all new computers. The cards enable a wide range of government services from library cards to health care, and also permit a much more secure electronic voting process.

Electronic voter registration will be the first step in Canada, said Elections Canada spokesperson John Enright, although Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand is authorized by a series of amendments to the Elections Act in 2000 to explore “alternative voting methods” down the road, with the prior approval of Parliament.

Members of Parliament are readying themselves now to contribute to that study through the Procedures and House Affairs Committee, said Bloc Québécois MP Claude DeBellefeuille (Beauharnois-Salaberry, Que.). The Bloc is still researching the issue, she added, and has yet to take a position as a party.

Conservative MP Scott Reid (Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington, Ont.) was also in fact-finding mode for his caucus, as much for internal party processes as for elections, he said. Their next leadership convention must be held by postal ballot, he noted, but there might be some opportunities for test-runs of i-voting since their party constitution also provides for internal referenda to decide certain questions.

Theresa Kavanagh, who works in the NDP Whip’s Office, wondered about the new role of scrutineers in an electronic voting process. All the electronic systems to date have instituted a full auditing process, but Ms. Kavanagh said she still has some questions about how it would work.

Municipal officials from Markham, Halifax, and Peterborough said they’ve all found very high user acceptance and satisfaction in post-election surveys, and that voter acceptance and adoption of internet voting grows over time.

“The municipalities are perhaps naive about the amount of risk they’re assuming,” warned internet voting security expert Richard Akerman of the PaperVoteCanada.ca blog, though. “Very closely contested elections like Al Franken’s recent race for the U.S. Senate were only settled because people could actually see the ballots,” he said. Had it been conducted over the internet, “the expense of defending the integrity of that system in the courts would have been huge,” he claimed.

More participants were comfortable with the idea of using i-voting during an advanced voting period for snowbirds, overseas voters, students and the disabled, noting that the current mail-in ballot procedures for such voters are no more secure than any internet solution. For visually impaired voters, the recent municipal i-voting pilots were the first time they had ever been able to cast a secret ballot. These four target audiences will be the focus of any trial run of electronic voting in a future byelection, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer Rennie Molnar told the conference.

Alice Funke is the publisher of the Pundits’ Guide to Canadian Federal Elections (punditsguide.ca).

6 Responses to “Hill Times Article on Internet Voting”

  1. Interesting that the turnout didn't go up, but that the 40-50 crowd turned to online voting. It would tend to support the conclusion that people aren't actually deterred from voting by the ease or difficulty. Based on this, I guess that there's no magic bullet to persuade more people to exercise their right, and obligation to vote. Perhaps the problem has more to do with the efficacy of negative and 'attack' politics in suppressing turnout, than anything else?

  2. Quixotique says:

    Were there any representatives of the LPC there?

  3. The Pundits' Guide says:

    I looked and asked around and did not come across any. If I had, they would surely have had a quote included in the piece.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Quixotique.

    BGB, I think ease of voting might be relevant to students away from home, or folks working overseas. Most of the systems that have been implemented, however, require preregistration in order to vote over the Internet, so that would tend to temper the "ease of voting" argument anyway.

    Thanks for your point of view as well.

  4. Joyce McCloy says:

    Internet voting will make vote rigging much more convenient.

    It also takes away the secret ballot – there is no way to have a truly secret ballot cast via email or online. So if you want to sell your ballot, it just got easier, your customer can watch over your shoulder.

    If you want to coerce your spouse, family members or employees, it just got easier, thanks to email or internet voting.

    The integrity of the vote is what is at stake, and we've seen how much money is poured into election campaigns. That money could be reduced to just enough to seem serious, and the remainder could be diverted into payments to savy hackers or insiders.

    And how will your vote be transmitted? Through Comcast, Earthlink, Road Runner, Time Warner, Windstream, AOL, or MSNBC?

    Please think this through and remember that there is power to be gained even in these tiny elections, and in truth, internet voting for these little elections is just meant to gain acceptance to risking our larger elections on internet voting.

  5. The Pundits' Guide says:

    Dear Ms. McCloy,

    Thank you for taking the time to pass along your perspective from North Carolina.

    In comments on an earlier blogpost here, it seems that most readers of this blog have strong concerns about the prospect of wholesale internet voting in Canadian federal elections.

    I'll be writing more about the information presented at that seminar in the coming days, if you're interested, but be assured I haven't taken a position one way or the other. Everyone up here in Canada is still very much in fact-finding mode, and most of us seem to like our paper ballot system very much apparently.

    We do have a few other differences between our system and yours. For one thing, there are strict spending limits in Canadian elections, which are considered constitutional, and are quite low by U.S. standards. Nevertheless, we would certainly be as wary as anyone about the potential for votes being influenced or coerced in the ways you outline.

    Thank you also for passing along the link to your website promoting verified voting with paper ballots in North Carolina (NCVoter.net). I'll be taking a bit of time to review it in the days ahead.

    Again, your taking the time to visit here and comment is appreciated.

  6. mike says:

    Interesting… I might try some of this on my blog, too. It’s quite interesting how you sometimes stop being innovative and just go for an accepted solution without actually trying to improve it… you make a couple of good points.

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