Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Case Studies of Internet-Based Electronic Voting in Canada

Source: Elections Canada
Electronic voting systems can take on many different forms. Some only involve the electronic counting of paper ballots. Others use touchscreen voting terminals. Taking another monumental leap forward is the concept of Internet-based electronic voting. This can free up resources, be more cost effective, and be more accessible since voters never have to leave the comfort of their homes and offices.

Internet voting appears to be picking up in popularity in many parts of the world and one country that is gradually adopting it more and more is Canada. Here are a few examples.

British Columbia Liberal Leadership

In early 2011, the Liberal Party of British Columbia held its leadership vote by using technology from a phone and Internet voting company. To help ensure that the ballots were accurate and free of fraud, the voting members each received a PIN code that would provide them with voting access, not unlike a normal voter registration process. Votes could then be cast online or by telephone.

The system that handled the live voting worked well, processing approximately 150 votes per minute. Since not all members of the Liberal Party were physically located in the province of British Columbia at the time of the leadership vote, it was very useful for them to be able to vote over the Internet. Some votes were cast from members in Arizona, California, and Mexico. This speaks to the efficiency of Internet-based voting, particularly if applied to broader elections involving electors in rural or remote areas.

The phone-based voting could demonstrate an example for countries like India to follow, where nearly everyone has a mobile phone. The logistics could prove simpler, since the voting and tabulation of votes would not require voters to pass one-by-one through a physical voting place.

Markham Advance Polls

In Markham, Ontario, Internet voting was used in advance polls in fall 2011. This was not the first time that Internet voting was used; in fact, the first major Canadian municipality to experiment with Internet voting was Markham, introducing an Internet voting system in 2003.

Based on a research and public opinion report, voter turnout was increased and non-voters were more greatly engaged to participate. The report also stated that overall voter satisfaction was improved as well. This continues the trend started from the 2003 introduction, increasing voter turnout by 35 percent since that initial experiment. Even more impressive is the increase in voter turnout at advance polls: in the 2003 election, advance polls saw a 300 percent increase in turnout. This affects campaigning, as candidates need to make that positive impression as early as possible.

According to the report, a full 99 percent of those who voted online for the advance poll were satisfied for the overall process.

Edmonton Civic Election Pilot Project

To date, approximately 80 municipal (city-level) elections in Canada have used Internet voting in some form or another. Edmonton, Alberta could be one of the next cities to implement the technology. Several jurisdictions have expressed interest in trying e-voting, which could include electronic ballots, Internet voting, and phone-based voting.

A pilot project is being considered for the Edmonton civic election in 2013, though it may focus on special ballots for people who may not otherwise be able to be physically present at a traditional polling booth. While a change to the Local Authorities Elections Act would be required, the province is supportive as long as recounts via a paper trail are addressed.

The Future of Internet Voting

As with any new technology and changes to the status quo, there will always be opponents to their adoption. Internet voting is no exception, though it appears that more and more jurisdictions in Canada are warming up to the idea. Some experts say that full Internet voting may be 10 to 15 years away, but based on the speed at which technology advances, it could be even sooner. The impressive increase in voter turnout demonstrated where e-voting has already been adopted speaks volumes to its merits.