A seismic shift will occur in Ontario politics on June 7 regardless of which party wins the election: electronic vote-counting machines will be used across the province for the first time. Machines will scan voters’ paper ballots and calculate the totals at each polling station that is equipped with them. Ninety per cent of the ballots will be counted this way. The rest will be counted by hand, as not all polling stations will have machines. When the polls close, offsite computers will add up the votes. On June 1, CBC News reported that the Progressive Conservatives, “wrote to Elections Ontario this week to flag several issues, including concerns about protection from hacking and the certification of the vote-counting machines.” Elections Ontario’s chief administrative officer, Deborah Danis, was quoted as responding, “There is no possibility that the counts could not be fully corroborated. I would actually argue that the introduction of technology increases our accuracy.” Unfortunately, this response from Elections Ontario falls far short. Here’s why.
The major problem with the plan is that scrutineers, appointed by parties to watch for cheating, will no longer be able to observe the count for 90 per cent of the ballots. Nor will they be permitted to object to any aspect of this automated count.
Unfortunately, the government offered no public consultation about this switch before making it law in 2016 — even though it is just as consequential as past proposals that warranted a referendum.
Elections Ontario is framing this as a change for the better by speeding up ballot counting and reducing the number of polling station staff, which they say are hard to find. In a test of electronic voting in a 2016 by-election, the agency found e-counting ballots took only half an hour, compared with 90 minutes, for hand-counting.
The convenience and cost savings have led Ontario municipalities to use tabulators in their elections for years, but it is far from clear whether their counts were ever accurate.