If Grande Prairie becomes the first city in Alberta to offer Internet voting in a municipal election, it will come at a cost – and a hefty one if implemented. City council’s General Government Services learned Wednesday that, for starters, a business case requested by the province may cost as much as $30,000.
That price tag in a report from administration surprised some councillors, who along with Mayor Bill Given directed administration to study the situation further by contacting Internet service providers (ISPs).
“I believe that we can build that business case for considerably less investment than what was suggested in the report,” Given said. “Other council members agreed with me.” In April, Municipal Affairs Minister Hector Goudreau requested the business case in order to formalize a city request to pilot online voting.
Goudreau said the Local Authorities Election Act precludes the province itself from implementing any alternative forms of voting. However, the act does give power to the Lieutenant Governor in Council to prescribe a regulation change.
“The business case would need to address the pertinent issues, such as the need for Internet voting in the city, who is the licensed provider, how is security guaranteed, how is voter validation dealt with, what are the costs, and how are results verified and recounts conducted,” Goudreau wrote.
Audrey Cerny, City Hall’s legislative services manager, told the committee it would take at least four to five weeks of staff time to develop a business case. But she said it is possible to develop one that is less costly than the estimated $30,000.
“It is depending on how much external consultant time is needed,” she said. “If the consultant is utilized for a fewer number of days, the costs obviously could be lower. So essentially it could be $10,000.”
In order for the province to study the concept and make a decision in time for the 2013 municipal election, a business case would have to be finished by September or October, she said. That means an outside consultant would be necessary.
“There’s no guarantee (our) internal resources may be able to fully complete this without using an external consultant,” she said.
“There’s a huge time crunch to produce this immediately and staff are doing all sorts of other types of things in the IT (information technology) area.”
Coun. Kevin McLean said that in cases where Internet voting was used, like Ontario and Nova Scotia, voter participation increased, although “marginally.”
“I’m more concerned about the person’s vote, making sure it’s counted and it goes through,” he said. “So far I haven’t been convinced that it’s totally secure.”
And that wouldn’t come cheaply: In order to ensure security, the city would have to pay approximately $4 to $5 per capita to draw up a voter list, costing approximately $200,000 to $250,000 in total.
The cost of the municipal election last October was $125,000.