Online voting no quick fix for turnout

Even if technical issues can be solved for all computers and phones, Internet voting doesn't attract more young people

Chief Electoral Officer Keith Archer

VICTORIA – B.C. isn’t ready to consider a wholesale shift to Internet-base voting in either local or provincial elections, according to a new report from Elections B.C.

Chief Electoral Officer Keith Archer released the report Wednesday, warning that even if a host of technical and security issues can be resolved, there is no consistent evidence that voter turnout would be increased.

Archer asked the B.C. government in 2011 for authority to conduct pilot projects for electronic voting. The government appointed him to chair an expert panel last year, and its preliminary findings are not encouraging.

While there are likely benefits for voters with disabilities or in remote locations, the report concludes that governments should not expect either lower costs or greater participation from voter access via computers and mobile devices.

Despite the widespread use of new technology by young people, a survey of other results showed middle-aged and older people more likely to use online voting.

The committee recommends that online voting be considered first as an option for people with access restrictions, such as those who vote by mail. It says universal voting should only be be attempted on a province-wide basis for consistency, security and ability to audit results.

No provincial or federal voting has been conducted online in Canada, but municipalities including Halifax and Markham, Ontario have tried it, as well as some U.S. and European jurisdictions.

Archer said online voting has unique challenges, such as the need to verify a person’s identity and then keep that separate from their voting choice. Another issue is how to verify security of a range of computers, tablets and mobile phones that could be subject to software tampering.

“It’s not like banking online, it’s not like dating online, it’s not like making a purchase online,” he said.

The panel has posted its preliminary report here and is seeking public comments until Dec. 4. It plans to make recommendations to the government on the next steps in February.

 

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