Online voting making little progress in Canada

In May, Vancouver's city council passed a motion for a pilot project that will allow voters to cast advance ballots online for the city's November 19 elections. In a 10-1 vote, councillors expressed their belief that the potential increase in voter participation (a dismal 30 percent in the last municipal election) outweighed the threat of voter fraud. 

The plan calls for voters to be provided with secret personal identification numbers (PIN), which would be supplanted by a second PIN once they register to vote. City manager Penny Ballem assured councillors that the technology to be used is “very robust.”

Three other Canadian municipalities – each of them significantly smaller than Vancouver – have used internet voting in local elections. In Halifax, the largest of the three cities, a 2009 trial of online voting technology resulted in a significant increase in voter turnout.

That isn't enough to convince some critics. One, Vancouver Sun op-ed columnist Cristian Worthington, called online voting an invitation to “unprecedented and untraceable voter fraud.

Others see no reason why security concerns can't be overcome to institute online voting across Canada. Numerous analysts and journalists questioned the lack of internet voting during Canada's recent federal election, citing the ongoing poor turnout by Canadians 18-25 (which has averaged about 38 percent).

Elections Canada, the agency of Parliament that oversees federal elections and referendums, has no plans to implement online voting. At this point, the agency will only commit to a trial of electronic onsite voting in a very controlled setting during a by-election no earlier than 2013. No promise has been made to change the existing system in time for the next general election, set by legislation for October 2015.

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