Hill Times Article on Internet Voting
February 1st, 2010
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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).