Troy Media – by Nicole Goodman
There is a lot of negative talk surrounding Internet voting. While some of these concerns are genuine and should be taken very seriously, others are a consequence of misinformation and a lack of research.
This is a response to Phil Elder’s recent column outlining a case against Internet ballots.
First off, Elections Canada is not “musing” with the idea of online voting. The agency has committed to trial Internet voting as part of its Strategic Plan 2008-2013. This decision reflects its commitment to changes made to the Elections Act in 2000, which allows the Chief Elections Officer to test an electronic voting system in a byelection or general election. Although the trial requires the approval of parliament prior to deployment it is not a figment of our imagination, but rather something that our national election agency is taking very seriously.
Complementary to traditional voting only
Second, it is important to make clear that no election agency or government is suggesting an outright replacement of traditional paper ballots with online votes. It is crucial to uphold and maintain the tradition of poll voting for a number of reasons. Internet voting is merely suggested as a complementary method of electoral participation that holds promise to make the voting process easier and more accessible for a number of electors.
I am one of those electors. As a university student away from my home constituency of Burlington, Ontario, I must say that the option to vote online in the 2010 municipal elections made the electoral process much more accessible for me. Although I am a political science researcher and have a strong sense of civic duty, I may not have cast a ballot had Internet voting not been available.
This brings us to the question of turnout. Data from exit poll surveys in the 2003, 2006, and 2010 Markham municipal elections published in the recent Delvinia Report on Internet Voting in the Town of Markham reveals that there are many more like me.
While online voters over 34 were likely to have voted anyway, many of those under 34 reported voting because of the convenience of Internet ballots. About 40 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 who reported previously voting from time to time or not at all in municipal, provincial, and federal elections voted online in 2010 municipal election. This suggests online ballots may be a useful means of encouraging the participation of young people not committed to voting.
Comparing results from Canada to other countries, such as Estonia and Switzerland, with successful Internet voting programmes shows that electors will make use of Internet voting and, if developed properly, this rate of use will increase over time. It also illustrates that some non-voters may be enticed to participate as a consequence of online ballots.
Has turnout increased in every election where Internet voting has been offered? No. The U.K. halted trials because they did not see desired turnout results, but this lacklustre outcome was more a consequence of hasty planning and poor development than an outright failure of Internet voting. Those countries and jurisdictions that have successfully deployed Internet voting projects have done so because they have worked hard to ensure supportive conditions were in place and did not rush development.
What these experiences teach us is that while Internet voting is not the antidote for apathy and other causes of non-voting, it does have significant potential to engage certain types of electors who might not have participated otherwise. This includes young electors and those potential voters who report being “too busy” to vote or cite being “away/ traveling” or “illness” as their rationale for not participating.
While there are valid concerns with respect to privacy, critics fail to point out that fraud and vote buying have been easily accomplished at traditional polls for hundreds of years. They also fail to acknowledge that for some groups of electors, such as certain disabled persons, the option of online ballots can actually enhance the privacy and equality of the vote by allowing them to cast a ballot unassisted and in secret for the first time.
Concerns about online voting easily overcome
There are also solutions to get around the patriarchal father or pushy friend. Estonia has successfully mitigated this problem by allowing electors to cast as many ballots as they wish up until and on Election Day, with only the final ballot officially counting. This permits people to vote one way in front of bossy family members and then change their selection when in private.
While there are valid concerns surrounding the adoption of Internet voting, there are ways to overcome them. There are also numerous positive effects that can result by extending the option of online ballots to citizens. They key is that for a number of electors Internet voting has the potential to make the voting process much more accessible. Providing the integrity of elections can be maintained, accessibility is an important principle that election agencies and governments should be striving to improve.
Nicole Goodman is a PhD candidate at Carleton University and the principal author of The Delvinia Report on Internet Voting in the Town of Markham, released on September 26, 2011.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Markham began his journalism career writing columns in the mid-1980s for Western People Magazine, then reported for a small Saskatchewan daily. He has spent most of his career in media and communications, likes to dabble in politics, was actively involved in economic development for many years, thinks that what goes on in the community is just as important as what happens provincially and nationally, and has a soft spot for small business (big business, not so much). Markham is a bit of a contrarian and usually has a unique take on the events of the day.