I read today that Elections Canada is considering dipping its toe into the waters of online or e-voting:
's chief electoral officer says he's committed to seeking approval for a test of Internet voting in a byelection held after 2013. Canada
Marc Mayrand also says Elections
wants to expand other services offered online, like voter registration. Canada
In his report on the June 2 federal election, Mayrand says it's clear Canadians are demanding more ease and flexibility when it comes to voting.
Let me say first that, on the one hand, it’s positive that an organization that is as culturally-conservative and traditional as Elections Canada is even pondering exploring alternate methods of service delivery is a positive. Some years back I interviewed their CIO a few weeks into the job; he’d come from the private sector and he was floored at the degree of institutional resistance to even minor technological advancement. They had their way of doing things, it was in a big binder, and it was step-by-step. I’m not sure how long he lasted there.
On the other hand, while voter registration seems like an obvious step, I’d have a very hard time trusting Elections Canada to devise a secure and reliable system for online voting when every time I try to use their online contributions database, for example, I want to cry over how unnecessarily complicated and cumbersome they make even simple tasks.
But griping about Elections Canada’s web savvy aside (they’re still better than the Parl.gc.ca folks) I have serious concerns about the idea of online voting, and serious reservations that would need to be addressed before I could consider supporting it.
It’s one of those things that sounds great in theory – vote easily and quickly wherever you are, you don’t need to travel or wait in line – but, upon further reflection, loses some of its luster.
Our current system has the advantage of being direct and personal: you go to your poll, identify yourself, you’re crossed off the list, mark an X on the ballot, then the ballots are counted and a winner tallied If there’s a challenge/recount, we have the physical ballots and we count them.
If we move to an online system, I see a number of problems:
*How do we know who that anonymous person is behind the computer screen is? Online systems usually involve a token or PIN sent to the mailing address of the registered voter. What’s to stop one person from collecting the PINs of past occupants or other residents and voting them all?
*How do we know they’re not being coerced by a friend or family member? Ask anyone who has worked a poll; they’ve had to stop people from going behind the private voting screen with the voter and attempting to influence them. If someone does want assistance, they need to sign a solemn declaration not to attempt to influence the voter. This is a real issue, and online there’s nothing to prevent coercion. The sanctity of the voting choice must be sacrosanct.
*With a physical ballot, there’s a paper trail. Where’s the paper trail with e-voting? There's none, it's all 0s and 1s. What if a server crashes, and votes disappear? Thousands could be disenfranchised, their votes disappeared forever into the electronic ether.
*No electronic system is secure. No matter how much security and encryption you build in, you will be vulnerable. If experienced and dedicated hackers (and today the majority of illegal online activity isn’t rebellious youth; it's organized crime, corporate espionage and nation states) want to penetrate the system, they will. And the possible motives for wanting to disrupt or influence a federal election are endless.
It could be that concerns such as these could be satisfied. We’ll see. But I think there’s a high bar that will need to be met before we trust something as fundamental as our democracy to computers. Look at the online voting experience for the BC Liberal leadership race -- something as simple as delays by Canada Post delivering PINs threatened to scuttle the process.
And in the interim, while I wouldn’t argue against progress, the fact is I like our current system and I don’t see much of a hurry to move online. Voting is a our civic duty. It’s 15 minutes our of our lives every four years (more or less), popping into our local church basement or school gymnasium to pick our national representatives. Ask the people of
I don’t know if I want voting to be an app on my phone, next to AngryBirds. I think it’s a little more important than that, and we should treat it that way.Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers