A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Electoral and Parliamentary Reform (part 3)

Electronic Voting

Last week I touched upon the subject of electronic voting as a means to increase the number of citizens who would participate in this important part of our democratic process and given that Elections Canada is 'studying' the possibilities will expand upon my thoughts on this. Given all the recent and ongoing allegations of malfeasance regarding poll locations during the last election perhaps we should consider electronic & telephone voting as a way to minimize this problem, or will that simply provide more opportunities for illegal activities?

As I have said before the single biggest hurdle in bringing such a system to fruition is designing a system that provides public confidence that the results are valid and that any software involved cannot be 'hacked'. Given the current revelations that the 2011 election was subject to at least some phone scams that discouraged or misinformed the electorate as to voting places or options this is singularly important. The use of telephone, internet and possibly paper ballots combined would at least eliminate any confusion as to where to vote. This was a major impediment in the last Ontario Provincial election where not only were many rural addresses incorrect on voter cards creating much confusion and the need to personally visit a 'revisions office', but the voting locations (and revisions offices) were often many kilometers away from the community where the voter lived, this may have lead to some irregularities taking place. This was blamed upon the lack of 'accessible' (to physically challenged persons) locations in rural areas, such considerations could obviously be eliminated with phone or internet voting. It is fairly obvious that a phone in system MUST be available for those without internet whilst an internet system SHOULD be available for those who prefer that option. Those without phone or internet could be provided with access to one or both at local library’s, schools, post offices or the like as no staff would be required to process the vote. I see little advantage to using electronic methods of counting or voting at fixed voting locations which really only speeds up the counting process with little or no other advantages.

Let us look at what would be required for such a system

Security :- Given that on line and telephone banking systems are reasonably secure (provided that the user protects their password from skimming or hacking) I see no major problems with this issue. Public confidence in such a system is however another issue entirely. It is not sufficient for such system to be secure, the public must be quite confident that it IS secure.

Identification :- The issuing of a one time pass code to each voter would help ensure that no one votes twice but it would be hard to verify that the person who was issued the code was in fact the person voting. Verification by name, SIN or some such would for the most part eliminate this problem but voters would then be concerned about the anonymity of their vote.

Verifiability :- Having voted how can the voter be sure their vote has been counted and in the case of alleged problems (with software, hardware or other counting issues) how can an independent recount be made? The first is fairly simple I would think in the issuing of a confirmation code which could later retrieve the voting record of that voter should they wish to do so. A recount is much more problematical if software malfeasance or crash is alleged, a total re vote would seem to be the only solution in such a case however in that folks would not necessary vote the same way a second time around this could be very controversial. It would however be much the same as a by-election and much easier and cheaper to implement than by current methods..

Stability :- Given that millions of voters would be trying to access any voting system, be it telephone or internet or both, over a relatively short period of time the capacity of such a system would have to be considerable, a crash would almost certainly invalidate the results. The use of multiple systems, say one for each riding, would no doubt help with this but the security of each system would have to be ensured and back up systems, both for power supply and software / hardware be readily available. There is also the possibility of being able cast your vote over a period of several days or even weeks as is currently possible via special and advanced polls.

Whilst some of these potential problems may be difficult to solve I do not think they are insurmountable, any system of electronic voting will not be perfect and may well be subject to misuse or abuse but then so is the current paper ballot system. All in all the ease of voting which should encourage more citizens to vote far outweighs IMHO any possible additional problems that mat arise provided that the four issues identified above are fully addressed.

One final note here, the practice of federal, provincial and municipal voting SYSTEMS being entirely designed and implemented by each separate entity is ridiculous. Yes, they should probably be administered by each level of government but if a federal electronic system is successfully implemented it should be readily available to ALL levels of government in the country. ONE system across the country for all elections, not wasted money on multiple different systems to further confuse and alienate voters. Perhaps even ONE comprehensive voter identification system would make sense, not that the various levels of government would ever cooperate to that extent, it might save too much taxpayers money!

Next week I will examine what reforms are needed and / or are possible in the House of Commons, meanwhile please note that my Election Malfeasance page has received numerous updates.

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