As the potential for cyberattacks to undermine the democratic process becomes alarmingly clear, Canadians can take some comfort in the fact that national elections in this country are still conducted the old-fashioned way. Canada is not immune to cybermischief aimed at suppressing the number of people who vote or manipulating how they vote. But once ballots are cast, not even the most sophisticated cyberattack could tamper with the results. That’s because Canada still relies on paper ballots, hand-marked by voters and hand-counted by officials in some 25,000 different polling stations across the country, under the watchful eye of scrutineers from each of the major political parties. “It’s highly decentralized and it’s paper-based so documents can be verified easily afterwards,” says Marc Mayrand, Canada’s chief electoral officer until his retirement just over a year ago.
“So, there may be an error in transmission from time to time or there may be somebody trying to hack the web system that publishes results for the general public. But it’s always verifiable, you can always go back to your paper trail.”
The same can’t be said of some other countries that have endured cyberattacks during elections, particularly the United States.
For that matter, it can’t be said of local elections in many Canadian municipalities, which Mayrand notes have been much more enthusiastic about embracing technology like electronic ballot scanners and tabulators and online voting — and which consequently leave municipal elections with a “higher degree of vulnerability” to hacking.