Monday, January 26, 2015

Considering E-Voting in Saskatoon, Canada

Rolling out e-voting and Internet-voting based protocols in large cities and across large countries can feel like a daunting task for many a government official. There are many factors that must be considered before such a deployment and that is why it is of critical importance that election commissions select respectable vendors in the electronic voting space that offer transparency, robust audits and a proven track record in international elections.

And while it may feel simpler and easier on a smaller scale, running an election in smaller markets must also undergo similar considerations. Even so, this is where governments with more limited budgets can leverage the existing experience and expertise of elections that have already taken place with some form of e-voting technology and learn from them to implement the best possible solution. This is why conferences like EVOTE 2014 are so invaluable to the worldwide community. 

One specific example is the city of Saskatoon in Canada's Saskatchewan province. A journalist from The StarPhoenix newspaper is calling for the inclusion of Internet voting in the town's upcoming municipal election, which isn't scheduled to happen until October 2016. This should give local and provincial authorities ample time in order to prepare and launch a pilot project, overcoming any legislative boundaries that may currently in place.

While concerns about security, privacy and administration are certainly valid, the writer says that Saskatoon can learn much from the Internet voting experience in other parts of the country. A prime example is the town of Ajax, Ontario, which is just outside of Toronto. Ajax recently experimented with Internet voting and found that it was incredibly popular. Voter turnout increased by approximately 30% compared to the previous elections in 2006 and 2010. 

Improving voter turnout is easily one of the most appealing advantages to the implementation of an Internet-based voting system. It is also important to note that Ajax did not use Internet voting to replace all other forms of voting completely. Citizens still had the opportunity to vote via telephone or at the physical polling stations with computer terminals on Election Day. Internet voting is simply another option that should be brought to the table and it's one that can suitably be used in place of postal voting for absentee ballots. 

Internet voting continues to grow right across Canada with advance polls seeing a 300 percent increase in Markham, Ontario. In fact, some 25 percent of municipal elections in the province of Ontario offered online voting as an option in the local elections of 2014. That is nearly 100 municipalities in just one Canadian province. By working together with local authorities in these cities and towns, a more robust and secure system can be utilized by all.

Another major advantage to Internet-based voting is the cost savings that can be enjoyed by government commissions. There are many hidden costs to manual elections that can be overcome, minimized or even eliminated with an online option. With the example of Markham, Ontario, the StarPhoenix cites Markham city clerk and returning officer Kimberley Kitteringham as saying Internet voting in the town cost about 81 cents per voter. Compare that to the estimated $5.63 it costs to administer and process the vote from one in-person ballot. 

While the City of Saskatoon should not dive into e-voting and online voting with reckless abandon, it should give the prospect of Internet-based voting a very close look if it hopes to increase voter turnout, reduce costs and modernize elections for generations to follow.