Election Reform

January 19, 2008 at 6:58 pm Leave a comment

 Can you hear that voice in the silence? It is Ontarians saying they have rejected mere tinkering with our electoral system and want meaningful change. That change is to embrace the future; and the future is e-voting.

Electronic voting has been around since the punch card days of the 1960’s and is currently used in the United States at polling stations in the form of Direct Record Electronic (DRE) voting machines. However, I’m speaking of e-voting as defined by current terminology; in other words, voting by Internet.

The mere word “Internet,” raises an alarming spectre of breached security, fraud and disenfranchisement but you may be surprised to learn that voting via Internet has been conducted successfully and safely since 2004 in Switzerland, the bastion of privacy and security.

According to Dan Blacharski in his blog on ITWorld.com, fully 22 percent of Swiss voters used the Internet in that nationwide election and the results took only 13 minutes and 5 seconds to tabulate. The Swiss are pleased, and discretely claim that the system is working very well. If it works there, why not here?

Various software companies have been working to eliminate any concerns about Internet voting. By using unique identifier numbers and passwords that are sent out to voters at registration, along with a security verification question, voting is as safe as accessing your bank account or paying your taxes on-line. A voter is even able to add themselves to the list via their unique Internet Provider (IP) address plus an authorization key.

There are other advantages to the Internet system as well. Once in full use, it eliminates the need for paper ballots. This is a large environmental plus and also erases one of the larger expenses in an election. Since people can vote from home (and at any hour), attending a polling place, particularly for disabled people, is not an issue. Voice prompting and various language choices make balloting by Internet intelligible to all voters. Selecting candidates in rank of preference is possible too, which means any improvement in the representation model, could be easily incorporated into the system.

The biggest advantage to Internet voting, in my opinion, would be addressing the problem of turnout. Turnout is lacklustre at best and steadily declining at worst. The ease of accessibility in voting would, of course, increase participation with active voters, but I see it drastically increasing the number of computer savvy first-time and younger voters. In the provincial election just past, the polling station where I worked saw only a few first-time voters and a mere handful of young voters from the total hundreds of eligible voters on the list. Use of the Internet would naturally attract significant numbers of these adolescents. Their numbers alone could spark a revolution in electioneering. These constituents would be inclined to study issues and candidates online, thus making all parties and candidates develop a capable, interactive Internet presence. Real-time online polling could also be easily accomplished.

We have to remain aware of risks inherent in any Internet setup, but those risks seem to have been minimalized in jurisdictions like Switzerland, the United Kingdom, France and even Canada, where Internet voting has been institutionalized at different jurisdictional levels. The definite advantages of this system make it an idea whose time has come. Canadian governments at all levels should participate together now in an effort to develop an e-voting system for use from sea to sea to sea. Let’s exercise our leadership in technology.

The great voice in the silence says, “The future is here. Embrace it!”

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Entry filed under: Articles.

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