Internet Voting: The Canadian Municipal Experience

Article excerpt

On January 26, 2010 Carleton University hosted a public policy workshop addressing Internet voting and what Canada can learn from existing cases and trials both locally and abroad. It brought together academics, technical experts, parliamentarians, political party representatives, government officials, representatives from electoral administration authorities and other professionals from Canada, the United States, and Europe. A report entitled, A Comparative Assessment of Electronic Voting, was prepared by the Canada-Europe Transatlantic Dialogue for Elections Canada leading up to the workshop. This article outlines the experiences of three Canadian municipalities that have tried Internet voting and suggests some lessons for other jurisdictions. It is drawn mainly from the report, which is available on the Canada-Europe Transatlantic Dialogue (Strategic Knowledge Cluster) website. This slightly revised and edited extract is published with the permission of Elections Canada.

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In the past decade various types of electronic voting, particularly Internet voting, have garnered considerable attention as possible additional voting methods that hold promise to make the electoral process simpler and more efficient for political parties, candidates, election administrators, and most importantly, for electors. The term electronic voting is a blanket term used to describe an array of voting methods that operate using electronic technology. There are three primary types of electronic voting, namely machine counting, computer voting and online or Internet voting. With respect to the last of these types, there are four kinds of electronic voting that use the Internet; these include kiosk Internet voting, polling place Internet voting, precinct Internet voting, and remote Internet voting. (1)

Kiosk Internet voting typically involves the use of a computer at a specific location that is controlled by election officials. This differs from electronic machine voting because, among other things, the ballot is cast over the Internet. Polling place Internet voting is conducted at any polling station through the use of a computer that is controlled by election representatives. Precinct Internet voting is analogous to polling place voting except that it must occur at the voter's designated precinct polling place. Remote Internet voting is voting by Internet from a voter's home or potentially any other location with Internet access. Remote Internet voting is the predominant focus of this paper given that it is treated synonymously with the term 'Internet voting' in the literature, has the most potential to lower traditional opportunity costs for electors and enhance accessibility, and is most consistent with other technological developments in society. (2)

Potential advantages of Internet voting

Proponents of electronic voting, particularly Internet voting, make a number of arguments in favour of its implementation. These are related to technology, social issues, and election administration.

First, electronic voting has the potential to make the voting process easier and more accessible for electors. This is especially true for remote Internet voting and telephone voting, given that ballots can be cast from any computer with an Internet connection or any working telephone. These latter methods substantially lower the cost of voting for many electors by creating many more access points from which they are able to vote. There is the potential to eliminate long line-ups at polling stations and better address accessibility issues for persons with disabilities, those suffering from illness, those serving in the military or living abroad, those away on personal travel, snowbirds, and other groups of citizens such as single parents who may find it difficult to visit a traditional polling station. Additionally, remote methods of electronic voting afford electors the opportunity to vote at any time. …