Online voters in 51 Ontario municipalities had either a few more hours or an extra day to vote after a 90-minute computer portal slowdown on election night. Affected municipalities in Eastern Ontario included Renfrew, Laurentian Valley, Pembroke, Petawawa, Whitewater, Belleville and Kingston — all clients of Colorado-based Dominion Voting. Dominion is one of four companies that supplied Ontario municipalities with services in this municipal election. On Monday night, Dominion posted a statement saying the glitch was the result of a Toronto co-location provider that placed an unauthorized limit on incoming voting traffic of about one-tenth of the system’s designated bandwidth. The company was unaware of the glitch until it was alerted by the municipalities that are its customers. In those 90 minutes, voters experienced slow response time and system timeouts. This points to problems with the “wild west” of online voting in Canada, said a cybersecurity expert.
“What happened to Dominion is the tip of the iceberg,” said Aleksander Essex, an assistant professor of software engineering at Western University. “You think it’s bad when people have to vote the next day? We’ll see a nation-state deploying cyber operations against a democratic election. This is where it’s headed.”
Voters need to have a debate about where election data is living, who is handling it and the location of the server, he warned.
“It is a juicy source of information.”
The province doesn’t even keep track of which cities are using online voting, said Essex, who estimates that more than 40 per cent of Ontario’s 444 municipalities now offer it as an option. That number has roughly doubled with every recent election. In 2010, it was only 44 municipalities. That increased to 97 in 2014 and 194 this year.
Compared with many other countries, Canada is in the “dark ages” of online voting, he said. While procedures for conducting an election using paper ballots are laid out in detail in the Municipal Elections Act, the same is not true for online elections. He points out, for example, that there is a procedure for declining a paper ballot. But some municipalities didn’t even think about how to do this with an online ballot.