St. John’s to ask province to allow Internet voting

Daniel MacEachern
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The City of St. John’s will ask the province to allow online voting in municipal elections.

At Tuesday’s regular meeting, city council approved a recommendation from its audit and accountability committee to ask the provincial government to amend the Municipal Elections Act to allow Internet voting.

The recommendation grew out of a broader review of the municipal elections process.

“The recommendation of the committee was that we would seek support, or guidance, or permission from the provincial government to allow us to look at Internet voting,” said Deputy Mayor Ron Ellsworth.

City clerk Neil Martin explained that an amendment to provincial legislation would be necessary to allow a community to permit online voting, much like one was required to allow voting by mail.

“What is being proposed (is) that an amendment be sought to the Municipal Elections Act to do the exact same thing, so that any municipality (that) wishes to conduct their vote by Internet can do so,” said Martin. “That does not mean that you have to do it. It just means that the authority’s there to do so if you so choose.”


Smart move

Coun. Dave Lane said allowing Internet voting would be a prudent move.

“I grew up on the Internet. I hardly know what real life is. I’m on it all the time,” he said. “I think it would be very convenient and helpful for a lot of people if we could vote for our elected representatives online.”

Lane noted the amendment would still require a municipality to ensure any online vote was secure. He suggested if St. John’s were to institute online voting that it do trial runs in other, less sensitive areas to ensure information can be collected securely.

Two councillors — Art Puddister and Wally Collins — said the potential risks of online voting are too great to ask the provincial government for the legislative amendment.

“I think too much can go wrong. I think hackers can get into it,” said Collins, who noted Newfoundland and Labrador doesn’t allow online voting in provincial elections. “You take even that airplane that was lost 10 days ago, down Malaysia. Nobody knows what happened to that, if they turned on the buttons or turned off the buttons, right? All this is subject to hackers, and I don’t agree with it. The way the system is now, there’s nothing wrong with it, as far as I’m concerned.”

Puddister said the city should focus its efforts on ensuring an accurate voters’ list, another aspect of the broader review.


Bylaw needed

Martin noted, however, that — again, like voting by mail — a municipality that wished to allow online voting would have to pass a bylaw that outlines how the voting would take place, which would have to be approved by the provincial government.

“You would have to have a bylaw that is very specific as to how you’re going to do it, and that bylaw has to be approved by the minister,” he said.

Other councillors, as well as Mayor Dennis O’Keefe, were in favour of looking into Internet voting, partly as a way to increase voter turnout.

“Telecommunications and communications have changed dramatically in the last 25 years,” said O’Keefe. “We need to put options into our voting system to allow as many people to vote as easily as they can possibly vote in a secure fashion as we can possibly develop. And that includes the option of Internet voting.”

Twitter: @TelegramDaniel

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Malaysia

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Recent comments

  • Vote Internet
    March 20, 2014 - 15:39

    Yes. Internet voting IS possible, but it requires proper and diligent implementation. It CAN be made secure - indeed even MORE secure than paper-based systems - but the process of managing internet voting is different than conventional systems. And THIS needs expert guidance and superior technology. Paper based elections are NOT secure. (Really!) If paper based elections were secure, we would not need all the security in place like election officers, strike off lists, auditors, and the like. After thousands of years of paper-based systems, we STILL see considerable flaws that are eliminated by electronic and internet voting. But, the tradeoff is that a different set of security and privacy needs are demanded in an internet voting environment. You need encryption. You need tools that provide transparency. You need ways to audit the results. You need authentication tools. When the municipality decides to evaluate the various technology options, the criteria won't be things that can be arbitrarily scored like 5/10 or 8/10. Rather, the scoring of the internet voting technology needs to be pass/fail absolutes. THEN and ONLY THEN can you go into an internet voting scenario with confidence knowing that your decision was responsible with the best interests of the citizens at heart. After the minimums are met for security, privacy, transparency, auditabilty, secrecy, authenticity and ease of use are met - THEN the City can evaluate vendors based on pricing and relationship and whatnot. If the Municipality gets permission to do it, then they might also look to some of the bigger cities in Canada for guidance and determine what their criteria were for implementing Internet Voting. In the end, I believe it's about enfranchisement and improving accessibility. If the City is being motivated by these benefits, then the project will be a success.

  • Counting The Vote
    March 19, 2014 - 16:38

    If we can bank/pay taxes/etc. online, why can't we vote online? Because voting is anonymous, banking is not! Online voting is the worst idea to come out of the internet generation because it removes openness and transparency in our election process. All votes are counted behind the closed doors of the computer system where no one can see how the votes are counted and leaves no way to independently audit the election results. I'm not worried about hackers, so much as I'm worried about corrupt politicians paying off the voting company to rig the election in their favor! Encryption, immutable logs, computer security, none of it matters when you don't know and can't prove if your vote was counted or not. Lest we forget the 2012 NDP leadership election where a DDoS cyber-attack made it almost impossible for people to vote, and the culprits of that attack have never been identified or prosecuted. Get more facts about online voting here: Twitter:

    • Vote Internet
      March 20, 2014 - 15:41

      Not a high opinion of politicians, eh?

  • Steve Pick
    March 19, 2014 - 08:14

    You can do you banking online. You can submit your taxes online. Explain to me why we can't vote online? (Reasons other than 1337 h4ck3rz)

  • Steve Pick
    March 19, 2014 - 08:13

    You can do you banking online. You can submit your taxes online. Explain to me why we can't vote online? (Reasons other than 1337 h4ck3rz)

  • Joe
    March 19, 2014 - 07:10

    We already have the wrong people in power. To vote the mayor we have to make voting as simple as possible or was that for the simple.

  • Crazy
    March 19, 2014 - 05:30


    • jj
      March 19, 2014 - 07:11

      The wrong people in power? That remark just caused me to spew my morning coffee. By the way, enough with the caps.