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 firstname.lastname@example.org.