Old-school voting is not enough

Gerry Phelan
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I was disappointed to read that there won’t be e-voting in our municipal elections this year. I was downright angry when I saw some of the reasons why.

It seems the minister responsible for such matters, Kevin O’Brien, believes we should all have to march to the ballot box in person.

The latest issue of Municipal News, published by Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, suggests the minister thinks “voting is not just a privilege or right, but an obligation of citizenship and sacrificing a little time to go and do it should be expected of all of us.”

O’Brien expresses concern that voting by computer or telephone could deliver a bad election result. He is quoted as saying, “People who don’t know what’s going on, voting for people they don’t know, is not appropriate.”  

Welcome, Mr. Minister, to the world of elections. Yes, some of those who cast ballots, even in our current system, are not up on the latest news, and often only know the public persona of the candidate they vote for.

They are often swayed by the latest campaign signs and literature, advertising and political arm-twisting. That will likely always be the case, but there is now a new generation of interested citizens who do everything by computer, tablet or smartphone.

There are more people engaged in social and political issues today than ever before.

There was a time it was letters to the editor and phone-in radio shows; now, it may be through Facebook, Twitter or some other form of social media, but it seems many more people are involved.

In fact, they share everything, from comments on issues and news stories to pictures of things many of us care little about.

It is called — get ready — public engagement.

We bank and shop online. We register our vehicles and book our campsites online. We should be able to vote online.

If the minister had expressed concern about the security of the vote, or even the expense of bringing in a new system, fine. But the reasons outlined in that article, read by municipal leaders provincewide, just doesn’t cut it for me.

I know there have been problems with online voting. In a trial election in Edmonton, one voter apparently managed to cast two ballots.

Obviously the system has to be secure. Huntsville, Ont., has used a combination of Internet and telephone voting but has decided to go back to paper. During the last election, the server used by the voting system was overburdened, preventing some voters from casting ballots.

But there are positive stories of electronic voting as well. In Nova Scotia, it was an option in more than a dozen communities in the last municipal election. Voter turnout was up.  

We can learn from the mistakes of those who have tried and failed and those who tried and succeeded.  

The basic questions should be, are we, as a province, ready for online voting? Is there sufficient online access for people to cast their ballots if they choose to do so that way? And what is the most secure system out there?

Surely, if we trust our financial dealings to the Internet, there must be a system that can prevent stuffing a virtual ballot box. And none of this takes away from the need for traditional voting stations. They should remain available to those who prefer to exercise their franchise that way.

St. John’s has used vote by mail. I say let’s look into electronic voting. We have an opportunity to reverse the traditionally low voter turnout.

I recognize some of that is probably caused by people feeling their vote doesn’t matter, but why not make it easier for them to cast a ballot?

The bottom line is to change our way of thinking. We no longer use quill pens and wait for mailed letters for the latest news. Let’s at least look into using the tools we have to make democracy easier for all.   

Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster.

He can be reached at gerryp@bellaliant.net.

Organizations: Municipal News

Geographic location: Edmonton, Huntsville, Nova Scotia

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Recent comments

  • William J. Kelleher, Ph.D.
    July 16, 2013 - 19:30

    I agree, Gerry! I wish the USA voters had as much courage as you do to explore new voting methods! William J. Kelleher, Ph.D. Email: Internetvoting@gmail.com Blog: http://tinyurl.com/IV4All Twitter: wjkno1 Author of Internet Voting Now!

  • Cyril Rogers
    June 29, 2013 - 06:53

    Many politicians are afraid to use on-line and or e-voting for fear of being turfed out of their positions. We know that voter turnout among young people is way down and it is skewing the results in favour of the parties in power. The PC's, and the CONS in Ottawa, both came to power on the basis of poor voter turnout...the PC's in NL winning a huge majority with approximately 35% of eligible voters actually supporting them....the CONS got only 25% of the eligible vote but won a handy majority of seats. Neither party....and this includes any party with less than a 50% plurality.....should have the right to govern and make fundamental changes to our society...with this amount of limited support. We, the voters, are partly to blame, by not getting out and exercising our right to vote, but we are still poorly served by these decisions. The PC's had absolutely no right to pull us headlong into the financial vortex that is Muskrat Falls...without first permitting a referendum on this project. Never in our history have we committed to spend so many dollars for such few returns......... and the people were given no opportunity to vote on it. It comes as no surprise to me then that Kevin O'Brien would refuse to allow such voting procedures to take place....to do so would increase the clamor for more direct democratic participation in other events,......like a referendum on Muskrat,........ like the right to vote that way in provincial elections......with he and his colleagues knowing full well that they would be annihilated come election year.