Point. Click. Vote.

Pam Frampton
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There should be many ways to cast a ballot in the 21st century

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
— George Bernard Shaw

St. John’s city council is finally asking the provincial government to consider allowing online voting.

As city clerk Neil Martin explained this week, St. John’s would need to pass a bylaw stipulating exactly how voting would take place and that would have to be approved by the provincial government. 

There are two bureaucracies involved, so we’re not talking fast-track here.

But not everyone on council is even convinced that the city should make it easier for people to vote. At this week’s council meeting, Couns. Art Puddister and Wally Collins warned that online voting could lead to security compromises.

Perhaps those two gentlemen don’t shop or bank online and aren’t familiar with firewalls and cybersecurity. Hackers can penetrate even robust security measures, of course, but there are other jurisdictions’ leads to follow, and the spectre of what-could-happen is no reason to keep voters in the Dark Ages.

Besides, how could online voting be any more insecure than the current mail-in ballot, where voting kits are sent to apartments where the tenants have long since gone, leaving the unattended ballots ripe for abuse?

Frankly, it’s frustrating to hear elected officials debating topics that they apparently have done no homework on.

Coun. Collins went so far as to compare the perils of online voting with what happened to missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, saying, “I think too much can go wrong. I think hackers can get into it. You take even that airplane that was lost 10 days ago, down in 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.”

To suggest the security risk of online voting has anything in common with how a plane went missing is talking through your hat. As I write this, there are many questions about what happened to the plane, whereas there is plenty of information available about online voting.

In fact, one of the great things about technology is how quickly it can facilitate research. In no time at all you can do a search and find an informative 2010 report from the Canadian  Parliamentary Review titled Internet Voting: The Canadian Municipal Experience, by Nicole Goodman, Jon H. Pammett and Joan DeBardeleben — academics from Carleton University in Ottawa.

The report looks at online voting  in Markham and Peterborough, Ont., and Halifax, prior to 2010, and identifies perceived pros and cons.

Among the pros: greater accessibility and ease of voting. Technology means people can be offered the options of voting by phone, home computer, at a polling station terminal or public kiosk.

As the report notes: “There is the potential to eliminate long lineups at polling stations and better address accessibility issues for persons with disabilities, those suffering from illness, those serving in the military or living abroad, those away on personal travel, snowbirds, and other groups of citizens such as single parents who may find it difficult to visit a traditional polling station.

“Additionally, remote methods of electronic voting afford electors the opportunity to vote at any time.”

Point-and-click voting also appeals to younger voters — a group that traditionally has a poor showing on election day — and it provides faster, less ambiguous results.

Among the cons: the possibility of technical glitches or power outages, the need to educate voters on how a new system would work, technological requirements and costs.

Based on the experiences of the municipalities studied, the report concludes:

“While there are valid concerns that should be considered and thought out … the successful operation of Internet voting in other jurisdictions suggests that it can be implemented and, in fact, improves the electoral process for electors and election administrators.”

In the Halifax Regional Municipality, where e-voting was used most recently in 2012, the process has proved to be cost-neutral.

Asked for advice for municipalities considering the high-tech route, Halifax election co-ordinator Lori McKinnon said they need comprehensive rules to reflect their election legislation and a bylaw that clearly outlines voting procedures.

When it comes to voting security, “Be prudent and thorough when testing the technology,” she told The Telegram.

“(Halifax) employed external auditors in conjunction with external and internal IT expertise to ensure that risks were mitigated to the fullest possible extent.”

She also said informing voters of the options open to them is key.

“Communicate with the electors. Engage the electors. Educate the electors,” she wrote via email.

“This is a new process, and election officials need to ensure voters understand how to use new offerings.”

Of course, Halifax is just one jurisdiction. Online voting is being offered in an increasing number of Canadian municipalities.

We’re not reinventing the wheel here, folks, just adapting it for our particular terrain.

As the report out of Carleton University says, “Internet voting will not act as a panacea for the social causes responsible for electoral disengagement. … It will, however, increase voting opportunities for electors and make casting a vote more accessible.”

In a city that had only 53 per cent voter turnout in the last municipal election, it’s an idea whose time is long past due.

Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email pframpton@thetelegram.com.

Twitter: pam_frampton

Organizations: Halifax, Carleton University, The Telegram

Geographic location: Malaysia, Markham, Peterborough

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Recent comments

  • Herb Morrison
    March 23, 2014 - 20:42

    Firstly, within the context of this editorial, I would agree that a switch to online voting would represent a change, which would have more of a positive impact than a negative impact. Secondly, I would be willing to bet that that the majority of the individuals, who have an aversion to change in general are; like myself, children of the sixties and early seventies. These individuals, who witnessed first hand the adverse effect, which advocating for change simply because advocating for change was the “in thing to do,” at that point in history, understandably developed either a wariness or a total aversion to any change which they feel might threaten social order. Thirdly, the assumption that any and all change occurring within society is representative of a progressive step forward, on the part of the people living in any society, and does not, and never will represent a regressive step backward for the afore-mentioned society, indicates an ignorance of human beings perchance for not learning from the mistakes made by their ancestors. When deciding whether or not to initiate social change because it is presumed to represent progress we must proceed with on eye focussed on the rear view mirror and the other on focused on the road ahead. There is no guarantee that, what is initially viewed as progressive change will have no negative impact within the society within which the afore-mentioned changes are implemented.

  • Skeptical Cynic
    March 23, 2014 - 11:37

    Unless a "none of the above" option is presented, online voting is predicated on the assumption that there's a candidate worth going online to vote for. If there isn't, how do voters register their disapproval by opting to spoil their ballot, as is the traditional manner of registering such voter disapproval in a democratic process? Therefore, I would suggest that any such online voting process must come with a means to electronically spoil the ballot. A clickable option for "None of the above candidates" should suffice. As for councillor Collins referring to MH370 to express reservations about online voting, that's just daft.

    • Pam Frampton
      March 24, 2014 - 08:07

      Dear Skeptical, in Halifax, they did offer a "decline to vote" button, which allowed electors to refuse a ballot.

  • Dianne
    March 23, 2014 - 05:18

    There only one way to keep voting honest, walk in pickup your ballot right there. do your voting at the station.

    • Voter Supporter
      March 24, 2014 - 15:42

      Well, that's all fine and dandy for you, Dianne. But what about me? I'm a middle aged man that lives remotely and works from home. I require assistance with all kinds of things. I earn my living online and I am very thankful for the internet because I would most likely be a burden to society living off welfare. I often vote through the mail - but I trust that system less than Internet Voting. And NOW, with Canada Post cutting their services, voting by mail will become increasingly difficult for me. The fact is that Internet Voting will help me participate in our government - even if only marginally. It's easy for you to just say "go and vote at the station" when it's right across the street from your house. For me, it's a full day affair and depending on the weather, might make it near impossible to do. Remember that we are a society of all kinds of people - some are able-bodied, some are able-minded, and many are lucky enough to be both. However, if you happen to fall into one of the other categories, it should not preclude you from participating in an election.

  • CountingTheVote.ca
    March 22, 2014 - 19:22

    "Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything!" - Josef Stalin Had Pam done any research on internet voting she would have found a lot more cons than the select few she mentions here in her article. Like the fact that internet voting is not transparent. All votes are counted behind closed doors where no one can monitor the counting process leaving online elections prime targets for rigging. No recounting possible. No means to audit either because there's no paper trail and no way for an independent company to examine the results. Maybe if she would have done some more searching on the Halifax Regional Municipality she would have dug up some interesting information by journalist Rob Wipond who raised alarms after finding out a computer security researcher, Kevin McArthur, found serious security issues in the way the HRM voting system was implemented (http://www.unrest.ca/setting-the-record-straight-on-halifax-election-evoting). If she did a little reading she'd have found the staff report from the City of Kingston and Elections B.C. report which studied internet voting and learned that online voting only marginally increases voter turnout (and doesn't increase younger voter participation at all). She would have learned that many cities across Canada have rejected using the technology because of concerns about security and the enormous costs it adds to elections. On top of that she could have learned that the city of Huntsville used internet voting and went back to paper ballots after experiencing technical problems with their voting system done on election day. People should be concerned with the use of electronic voting, because it has many flaws. Get more FACTS about internet voting here: http://www.countingthevote.ca/ or https://twitter.com/count_the_vote

  • William J. Kelleher, Ph.D.
    March 22, 2014 - 18:49

    Great Editorial, Pam! I especially liked: "and the spectre of what-could-happen is no reason to keep voters in the Dark Ages." Everyone should read Prof Goodman's paper, which you referenced. Here is more info to lend support to your position (which I totally share): Norway has Second Great Success with Internet Voting http://internetvotingforall.blogspot.com/2013/12/norway-has-second-greatsuccess-with.html Also, officials with actual experience in Gujarat India reported, “we fended off 4,000 attempted hackings from Pakistan, Taiwan and even China.” http://t.co/kVzR2aL Tarvi Martens, who designed the Estonia Internet voting system, says it’s “more secure than Internet banking” http://t.co/Jh6Onyd William J. Kelleher, Ph.D. Email: Internetvoting@gmail.com Blog: http://tinyurl.com/IV4All Twitter: wjkno1

  • Joe
    March 22, 2014 - 09:03

    So voting is so hard for people every 1461 DAYS. Maybe the Council should send staff to every ones door to pick up their vote so that we can get a better response.