In Praise of Online Voting

unacto1The following post was written by Emma Lange, one of our new UNAC-Vancouver website writers.

On October 19th citizens across the country will arrive at their respective polling stations to place their ballots for the next federal government. Some will have already cast their ballots in the advance polls or by mail; however, a significant number will not be participating due to limited accessibility or time constraints. This is a prevalent issue across all levels of elections, which could be reduced by the option of online voting.

Elections1
Credit: National Observer

Countless aspects of our daily lives can now be performed electronically. With the ability to gain degrees, carry out bank transactions, and file taxes online, many Canadians are asking why they cannot also vote online.

Elections Canada had been experimenting with a pilot program for online voting, which they hoped to apply to the federal by-elections, however, the project had to abandoned due to an eight percent cut in their budget.[1] Online voting was further discouraged by the Conservatives passing the Fair Elections Act last year, which requires unanimous consent by the Senate and the House of Commons for “e-voting”.[2]

Online voting has been most strongly opposed for security and privacy reasons. Many electors and officials are concerned that the system cannot properly identify voters, and that web hackers would be able to breech the system to alter votes. While this is a relevant concern, paper ballots are not without error either. Elections Canada found irregularities in 165 000 votes across the country for the 2011 elections, equating to approximately 500 questionable votes per riding.[3] These errors were associated with improper registration or identification at the polling stations.[4]

Others oppose electronic voting because they feel it reduces the privacy of the voter. They fear information of individuals could be revealed through online hackers or that voters could be coerced by members of their household to cast their ballots for a certain candidate (CITE). Though these are valid complications that need to be addressed, they are also associated with the current mail-in ballot system. Additionally, those who wish for the privacy and security of voting in person would still have the opportunity to do so, as online voting would compliment not replace, the current system.

Many electors lead busy lives and find it inconvenient to cast their ballots at a specific place and time. While overall levels of voter turnout have declined since the 1990’s, advance turnout for those elections has increased significantly, suggesting that voters enjoy having greater accessibility when it comes to voting.[5] Furthermore, data from Elections Canada shows the reasons most frequently cited for not voting in the 2008 and 2011 elections are those that relate to accessibility, such as “travelling”, “work/school schedule”, “injury” or being “too busy”.[6] For these electors, the option of voting electronically may have encouraged them to participate.

 Online voting may also be beneficial to members of the Canadian Force and to citizens temporarily residing outside Canada. Currently, the only way for these individuals to vote is by obtaining a special mail-in ballot. This poses problems as many voters miss the election deadline due to a short election time frame or limitations of the postal service.[7] During the last elections, over 3,600 special ballots were not counted as they were received two weeks after election day.[8]

While online voting would increase accessibility across a wide range of demographics, one of its most important benefits may be attracting participation from the younger generation. Canadian youth are among the demographics with the lowest voter turnout and are also the ones most accustomed to being able to do nearly everything electronically. While the option may not necessarily encourage them to become political, they would be more likely to vote from their phone or laptop than take the time to commute to their polling station.

Elections Canada is aware of the ongoing issues with online voting but also appreciates these numerous benefits, as well as the inevitable shift to electronic ballots. Municipal elections in Halifax and across Ontario have already had success with online voting, further encouraging officials that it could be implemented at a national level. With adequate funding restored by the government, Elections Canada could continue to research the most secure and viable way to make electronic voting possible, and thus make the voting process much more accessible to Canadian electors.

 

[1] “Elections Canada Drops Plan for Online Voting Due to Cuts,” CBC, April 30, 2013, Accessed October 7, 2015, http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/elections-canada-drops-plan-for-online-voting-due-to-cuts-1.1346268.

[2] “Elections Canada Drops Plan.”

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Nicole Goodman, “Will E-voting Boost Turnout in Ontario’s Municipal Elections?” The Globe and Mail, October 21, 2014, Accessed October 10, 2015, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/will-e-voting-boost-turnout-in-ontarios-municipal-elections/article21188154/.

[6] Goodman, “Will E-voting Boost Turnout.”

[7] “Elections Canada Advocates Online Voting to Increase Turnout,” CBC, June 27, 2009, Accessed October 9, 2015, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/elections-canada-advocates-online-voting-to-increase-turnout-1.822909.

[8] “Elections Canada Advocates Online Voting.”

 

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One thought on “In Praise of Online Voting

  1. Karen O'Kain October 13, 2015 / 07:58

    I went to my polling station on Friday, stood in line for an hour and had to leave because I had an appointment. I went back later in the afternoon; there was still a wait of over an hour. I returned on Saturday, determined to vote, and stood in line for 1:15. I saw other people walk out. I know of four people who will not vote because they hadn’t the time to stand in line and were leaving the province and would not be returning until after election day.

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