Thursday, June 5, 2014

Is Canada’s conservative government limiting online voting for selfish reasons?

Source: Google Images
It is understandable that some people can be quite sceptical about voting technology systems. They may have concerns about the security and confidentiality of such systems, but it has been proved that if the chosen technology is robust, secure and auditable you can indeed improve transparency and efficiency in your country’s electoral processes, as well as increase voter confidence and participation. E-voting can also save governments a great deal of money. However, it looks like the Conservative government in Canada could be holding back this technology for self-serving reasons.

Bill C-23, also known as the Fair Elections Act, is being proposed as part of the Conservative government's new elections act in Canada. There are several provisions included in the proposed act and one of these would make it more difficult for Elections Canada to experiment with online voting and other electronic voting technologies. With the current law, alternative voting methods can be tested as long as the chief electoral officer gains the approval of the parliamentary committees that oversee elections.

If the Fair Elections Act is approved and goes into law, however, then these tests would first need to gain the approval of both the House of Commons and the Senate. Given that the Conservative Party of Canada currently has control of the Senate, they could presumably refuse to authorize any tests for online voting that are put forth by Elections Canada.

The reason why this Act is self-serving, according to NDP Democratic Reform critic Craig Scott is that “e-voting is something [the Conservatives] know appeals to younger generations, which is not necessarily their voting cohort.”

While not always true, it is generally understood that younger demographics are the ones that are more likely to gravitate to and embrace voting technologies, while older generations are more likely to prefer more traditional methods. As it stands, older generations are also more likely to vote Conservative than their younger counterparts. If a larger number of youth voters cast their ballots, the elections could swing away from the Conservative Party.

The only way that electronic voting and online voting can move forward in Canada is if Elections Canada is granted the ability to conduct pilot projects to test out these technologies. By adding another layer of bureaucracy, one in which the Conservatives would first have to give their stamp of approval, they could be stifling progress in the country. This is particularly troublesome when you consider that members of the Senate are not elected, but are actually appointed.

Even beyond online voting and electronic voting, the Fair Elections Act proposal could also limit the ability for students to vote at the polls, because it would place more stringent restrictions on the current vouching system in Canada. The same is true for several other demographics, like minority voters and low-income families, who may not be able to qualify for traditional eligibility, but should still have every right to vote.

As it stands, Canada has already stopped any plans of an Internet voting pilot program in 2015, further impeding progress in the country to modernize its electoral system and bring it in line with current technology. If passed, the Fair Elections Act will make it more difficult than ever to evolve from the archaic manual, paper-based system for casting ballots.