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

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One thought on “Online Voting is a Complex Question

  1. Thank you for your clear statement. I have said the same thing, but I used more words! Not a good thing. I am getting fed up seeing the Guelph Today comments section ragging on about the ‘Group Of Seven’ Unfortunately, there are a lot of people will not focus on the facts.

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