Online Voting Decision Tonight

voter_fraud_1050x700Tonight (Monday, April 24) City Council will make its decision to offer — or not offer — online voting as an option in the next municipal election in the fall of 2018.  On April 5th, at Committee of the Whole, I moved a motion to remove online voting as an option, which passed in a 7-5 vote.  Since that day, members of council have received hundreds of letters and emails on both sides of the issue.  This issue is obviously important to our community and the debate is a healthy one.  It has given proponents of online voting an opportunity to make their case, to present compelling evidence in favour of internet voting, and to refute the research highlighting serious concerns about the list of electors and software security.

Over the course of the last two weeks, I have been prepared to have my mind changed.  I was open to hearing about major improvements to the voter’s list.  I waited to hear expert testimony and research demonstrating the security of voting software.  I listened to arguments about accessibility for seniors and our disabled citizens, both for and against.  I was hopeful that internet security experts could verify that the online election process could be audited in a meaningful way to detect a fraudulent vote or software hacking.

After listening and weighing all of the community input,  I believe, now more than ever, that Guelph should not use online voting for its municipal election in 2018. 

I want to thank the many citizens who took the time to express their views on this important issue.  There were many compelling letters, for and against, on this important issue.  I read each one and considered the input carefully.  The case for convenience and accessibility for voters with disabilities has merit.  These concerns were also addressed by writers who proposed that accessibility needs could be met in alternative ways.   Of all the submissions, three in particular stand out that cannot be ignored.

Submission of Richard Akerman

Submission of Cameron Shelley

Letters from Susan Watson

Given overwhelming evidence about the risks to our local democracy if we move forward with internet voting, it would be irresponsible of me to support its use.  I anticipated that the supplementary report released by the Clerk in advance of tonight’s meeting might have addressed some of the research and concerns submitted by the public, but no new arguments have been presented that would convince me that interest voting is reliable enough to entrust the outcome of the next election.

My obligation as your elected representation is to make decisions in the best interests of our residents.  Supporting an electoral process that is open to fraud and manipulation would be an abdication of my duty to protect the integrity of our local elections.

It is my hope that my fellow councillors will agree during the debate tonight that the concerns raised by letter-writers and delegations are serious enough to warrant a pause in online voting, and that Council will pass a unanimous vote to suspend internet voting in 2018.

LP

 

Online Voting – Another perspective

Online Voting – Another perspective

Dare I weigh in to the healthy debate our community is having about online voting!?
Of course, I will. I am willing to offer up my thoughts on this matter understanding that until I actually need to push the yea/nay button I am open to hearing other points of view. I do think I offer a unique perspective as I have been a Returning Officer in charge of delivering the provincial election here in Guelph.

I support online voting during the Advance Poll period as was done in the 2014 election but do not support the expansion to include Election Day. At the Committee of the Whole meeting on April 10th, I did not support the motion to remove internet voting completely.

I have concerns regarding the integrity of the voters list that the City receives from the the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC). I do not have complete confidence in MPAC’s voter registration process before the City takes control and this creates a vulnerability for fraud in the internet voting process. The City requires proof of ID for voter registration while MPAC requires no proof. Someone can register with MPAC and vote online without ever having to produce an ID of any kind. If you go to Elections Ontario’s website today, you can only register with valid ID. Elections Canada requires a driver’s license number. MPAC needs to have a similar requirement.

So why would I continue to support internet voting for the Advance Polls? There are many articles identifying the pros and cons, the successes and failures and lessons learned. What I do know is that internet voting has been used in Ontario municipalities since 2003 without any reported security or voter fraud issues. In the 2014 election 97 municipalities used internet voting. In Guelph 33% of people who voted used the internet. While I understand the jury is still out as to whether online voting increases voter turnout, Guelph’s voter turnout increased 10% from the 2010 election. We don’t know why. I believe the benefits of accessibility do outweigh any potential problems if limited to Advance Polls. Any voting system, including paper ballots, relies on the integrity of our electorate and those delivering election services.

The problems of the MPAC list extend to the paper ballot system as well. A person can register online with MPAC without ID and show up at a polling place and still not have to show ID to vote. As long as someone has a voter’s card, they only need to sign a declaration that states they are the person who is named on the card. Also, no proof of Canadian citizenship is ever requested in the voting process. The ID requirements are outlined in the Municipal Elections Act. The paper ballot system has its own unique set of problems.

Polling stations are mandated to be accessible for persons with disabilities and procedures are put in place to assist in the voting process. Election polls are set up in retirement homes and long term care facilities. Municipal elections do not require home or hospital visits as do their provincial or federal counterparts. The Ontario Human Rights Commission states that the “electoral principle of accessibility recognizes persons with disabilities should be able to vote without assistance.” Here is their supportive statement for internet voting in Toronto – http://ohrc.on.ca/ur/node/11576 Voting without assistance is important as it maintains dignity, independence and confidentiality. I would also point out that not all disabilities are ‘physical’.

Another reason I support internet voting during the advance polls is that candidates have an opportunity to see the list of anyone who has already voted in the Advance Polls. We receive this list before Election Day. I think large scale irregularities would be evident.

I acknowledge that many are concerned about security. I have asked our City Clerk to provide information regarding security measures used by the city for internet voting and have been told that there will be a supplementary information report for the April 24th Council meeting which will provide more in depth information about security and other issues raised by the public and Council. This report will be made available to the public.

Here is a link to the 2013 Council report which provided an analysis of alternative voting methods: http://guelph.ca/wp-content/uploads/StaffReport_GuelphMethodsOfVoting.pdf

Happy to hear respectful input!

Cathy

Online Voting is a Complex Question

Online Voting is a Complex Question

Recently, Council as Committee of the Whole voted (7-5) against the use of online voting during the 2018 municipal election.  As one of the councillors who voted to pause online voting for 2018, let me assure you that this issue is not black and white.

I try to do my homework before I make a decision — on any issue — and I can see both sides of the argument on this one.  The subject of internet voting is complex, and there are conflicting opinions across the country.  My challenge is to balance all of the input, test the known facts, and make the best possible decision in light of conflicting opinion.

Online voting is something I strongly support – in principle.   In fact, I voted in favour of implementing online voting for the 2014 election.   The 2014 experience led me to the conclusion that we have some very serious data and technology integrity issues that MUST be addressed before we use online voting again, in 2018 or beyond.

Specifically, the voter database supplied to the municipality by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC).  Until they clean up their data, and their online registration process with more secure ways of verifying voter identity, we need to pause.  In addition, there must be an audit process available to test the integrity of the voting software during the real-time election period (before, during and after), as well as an identity test to verify an online elector is the person registered.

Confidence in the security of the democratic election process is more important than convenience.

I know all the arguments in favour of online voting – convenience, increased turnout, accessibility.   Many of these assertions are not evidence-based.   Below is an excellent recent article from Municipal World, a Canadian-based publication for municipal officials:

Municipal World article on Internet Voting, June 2016

There are clear requirements in the Elections Act that municipalities must make elections accessible to seniors and electors with disabilities, including setting up polling stations in institutional settings, nursing homes, and even going so far as empowering election officials to attend an elector in their private residence room.

Does voter fraud occur?  I don’t know.  That’s the problem.  There is no way to know, no audit trail, no traceable evidence.  But I do know that internet fraud is real and voter suppression tactics have taken place in the last two Canadian elections.

I use online banking, pay bills, online shopping, and many other services online.  I use them knowing they are generally safe, but also know that hacking and fraud occur regularly enough that my banks have anti-fraud departments, and that they will return my money if I am hacked.  It’s part of their cost of doing business.  Unfortunately, an audit to test the integrity of an online election is impossible.  If a vote is altered between the home computer (or mobile) and the Clerks office, there is no way to trace it because we can’t go back to the elector and ask them to confirm for whom they voted.  And we have no way of knowing that the voter behind the IP address is the elector to whom a voter card was issued.

One solution that I think would work well is now in place in Quebec — everyone is issued a Voter Registration ID # and is documented on a List of Electors for all three levels of government.  It is a unique ID similar to your SIN or CRA registration login.  The Voter ID number can travel with you if you move, and is deactivated when you die.  Municipalities get their voter registration data from the same central List of Electors.  I hope Ontario adopts a similar model.

I am hopeful we can return to online voting in the future.  Unfortunately, the new Elections Act requires us to make the decision for the 2018 election by May 1, 2017.  I’m not ready to support online voting until the integrity of the voter registration process and software products can withstand a higher level of scrutiny.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts…

LP