An update on online voting across Canada

February 6th, 2013 by Dan Allan

Several Canadian municipalities are considering the implementation of online voting. Here’s an update:

Edmonton and St. Albert, AB

A new report recommends that Edmonton should implement online voting for their fall municipal election. St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse believes that his city could also bring in the new technology.

Edmonton conducted an online voting experiment last fall where residents were asked to vote for their favourite jelly bean flavour. More than 1,000 people registered, and the system proved to be secure in the face of several planned and unplanned hacking attempts.

In an exit survey, 77 per cent of participants said they had high to very high confidence in the system’s security. 91 per cent said they would be likely to vote online in a real election.

However, an Edmonton council committee heard from a number of citizens with concerns about the safety of online voting on January 28. Edmonton council voted against the use of online voting on February 6. St. Albert also announced that they would no longer pursue online voting.

Airdrie, AB

Airdrie city council was presented with information about the possible use of the same online voting system currently being piloted in Edmonton and St. Albert for their 2013 municipal elections.

56 per cent of Airdrie’s 2012 census results were completed online, so manager of legislative services Sharon Pollyck believes online voting is an avenue worth pursuing to increase turnout.

Council members had questions about issues of security, voter fraud, spoiled ballots, the costs of online voting and the possible exclusion of some voters.

Some aldermen saw the “value” of online voting, but others “lamented the possible loss of traditional voting.” Council decided to table the proposal until more information related to their concerns was available.

On February 4, Airdrie council approved the use of online voting in the October 21 municipal elections.

Sudbury, ON

Voters in Sudbury voters will be able to vote online during next year’s municipal elections. However, the online vote will be restricted to advanced polls.

Under the proposed change, voters would receive a PIN in the mail. One activated online, it can only be used once.

Councilor Frances Caldarelli is “extremely excited” about the plan, noting that she sees it “as a way to increase the number of young people voting.”

Cambridge, ON

Cambridge approved two new voting methods for the 2014 municipal elections. Residents will now be able to vote by phone and online.

Noting the success in Halifax, City Clerk Alex Mitchell notes that online voting, “would result in no spoiled ballots, reduce the need for neighbourhood polling stations, staffing and the need for scrutineers.”

Mitchell also noted that online voting would not increase voter turnout, “it will only make it more convenient for existing voters.”

Kitchener, ON

Kitchener will not hold an online vote for the 2014 municipal election after councilors received an extremely critical report on online voting.

After 18 months of study, councilors were told that online voting does not increase participation in elections. However, online voting increases costs, reduces transparency and is vulnerable to coercion and fraud.

In particular, concern was expressed regarding how one member of a family could vote on everyone’s behalf and how no “paper trail” was left behind in case a recount was required.

Kitchener will explore other ways to increase engagement. Only 25 per cent of eligible Kitchener voters cast a ballot in 2010.

Waterloo, ON

Waterloo is investigating the use of telephone and online voting for their 2014 municipal elections and is seeking proposals from online voting companies.

Councilor Jeff Henry grew up in Markham, a city that has used online voting for several years. He is skeptical of the safety involved in an online vote.

Alternatively, Councilor Karen Scian argued in favour of the online vote, noting that it had the potential to engage more citizens by making it easier to vote.

Further Reading

  • The University of Western Ontario used online voting for their University Students’ Council (USC) presidential election last February. The system was hacked, and the results were declared null and void.
  • The NDP used online voting for their leadership convention last March. A “cyber attack” slowed down the voting system and delayed voting for several hours.
  • Halifax, Nova Scotia used online voting during their municipal election last October. 22 per cent of voters cast their ballots online, and there were no reports or allegations of online voting malfunction or fraud.
  • British Columbia had been considering online voting for future provincial and municipal elections.
  • The city of Markham, Ontario has successfully used online voting to improve their voter turnout.


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