British Columbia should not adopt online voting because it won’t necessarily improve voter turnout and is less secure, a report from an electoral panel says. The 106-page report, released Wednesday, makes four recommendations for municipal and provincial elections. Chief among them is that online voting not be used at this time. “There’s no consistent relationship between the use of Internet voting and increased voter turnout in those jurisdictions that have used Internet voting,” Keith Archer, the chief electoral officer and panel chair, told reporters. “Sometimes turnout goes up, sometimes it stays the same, and sometimes it has gone down.” Online voting advocates have argued such a system would engage younger voters. But Mr. Archer said the five-person panel – which formed last year, after being invited by the provincial government to study the issue – found the people most likely to use online voting were middle-aged or older. “Those findings led the panel to conclude that moving towards Internet voting in British Columbia is likely not the panacea for the challenges of declining voter turnout that we’ve seen in the last generation or so,” he said. Mr. Archer described the report as “cautionary” and said it’s important to maintain the integrity of the electoral process. Although traditional voting is not without risk, the report said, “it is much harder to perform and conceal large-scale fraud in traditional voting than in Internet voting.”
The report said providing secure online voting is a significant challenge and cited a July letter from a group of American computer scientists that said the necessary technology “does not yet exist.”
The panel will now begin a six-week public consultation and a final report is expected to be submitted to the legislative assembly early next year.
The report cites several examples of jurisdictions – from Markham, Ont., and Halifax to Norway and Estonia – that have utilized online voting.
Stephen Huycke, public services and records co-ordinator for the City of Markham, presented to the panel in February. In an interview Wednesday, Mr. Huycke said online voting has been well received by voters and staff in Markham.
He said more than 17 per cent of votes were cast online when Internet voting was introduced in 2003. In the next municipal election, in 2006, that figure remained at about 17 per cent, while in 2010 it dropped slightly to 16 per cent.
Mr. Huycke said the city initially hoped online voting would boost voter turnout. But he said it has become clear many factors go into voter turnout and online voting is part of the engagement strategy.
He said Markham has not had any security breaches since it started using online voting and has a two-step authentication process. One personal identification number is sent to the voter upon registration for the online service, and a second PIN is sent just ahead of the vote.