Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

Administering Elections in a Digital Age: Online Voting in Ontario Municipalities

Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

Administering Elections in a Digital Age: Online Voting in Ontario Municipalities

Article excerpt

Introduction

A growing number of governments and election agencies across Canada are modernizing elections by integrating technology into various aspects of the voting process. While national and subnational election agencies in Canada are making headway to "innovate" elections by adopting e-poll books and electronic tabulators (Elections BC 2018; Elections Ontario 2018), the bulk of digital voting activity is occurring locally (Goodman and Pyman 2016). A stark example of this is the growth in adoption of online voting in municipal elections. In the 2018 Ontario municipal elections, for example, 177 of 414 municipalities offered online voting to approximately 2.74 million electors (Cardillo et al. Forthcoming). Of the possible ways to modernize the voting process, moving voting online offers electors the greatest convenience (Goodman et al. 2010) and has been shown to increase turnout at the municipal level in Canada by 3.5 percentage points (Goodman and Stokes 2018). (1) Initial hopes of improving voter engagement resulted in studies of election technologies tending to focus on online voting's impact on voter participation (Couture et al. 2017; Germann and Serdult 2017; Goodman and Stokes 2018; Unt et al. 2017). However, comparatively less attention has been paid to the policy and governance implications of online voting adoption. In a Canadian context specifically scholars have not focused on the extent to which online voting affects the governance of elections or their administration.

While some international contributions that examine modern technologies in public administration include mention of online voting (Strielkowski et al. 2017), the development of its administration (Solvak and Vassil 2016), cost of am "e-vote" (Krimmer et al. 2018), and changes in election delivery processes (Krivonosova 2018), we are not aware of any studies that explore the effects of online voting from the perspective of government administrators. In Canada, coverage of this topic has been mainly relegated to sections in technical and government reports (Elections BC 2014; Goodman et al. 2010; Pammett and Goodman 2013; Goodman and Pyman 2016). As a result, the policy and administrative implications of online voting have been largely overlooked. Administrative considerations in Canada should be explored more fully to understand the impact of this change to voting rules. Information about implications and implementation strategies is essential for local governments that are considering refining approaches to deployment of voting technology, or governments at any level contemplating the adoption of online voting. Drawing on survey data of election officials in 46 Ontario municipalities following the 2014 municipal elections, we contribute to filling this gap by assessing how online voting affects the administration of local elections.

Online voting and e-services

To date literature examining online voting has mostly focused on the effects on voters and the security of the technology. Canadian contributions focused on voters have shown that online voting encourages participation among less committed electors (Couture et al. 2017), positively affects voter turnout (Goodman and Stokes 2018), and seems to affect the composition of voters on the basis of digital literacy (Goodman et al. 2018). There is also modest examination of the extent to which online voting affects candidates and campaigns (Goodman et al. 2014). International studies have similarly focused on online voting's effect on voter participation examining effects on turnout (Germann and Serdult 2017; Solop 2001), impact on the social dynamics of voting (Unt et al. 2017), and the diffusion of online voting across the voting population overtime (Vassil et al. 2016). The focus of these contributions is not surprising given the argument that digital technologies can transform the political environment (Bridgmon and Milewicz 2004) and change the nature of participation by lowering the costs of voting (Goodman and Stokes 2018), especially for marginalized groups. …

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