B.C. holds onto the old, paper-based way of conducting elections

Local governments in B.C. are preparing to hold general elections on Nov.19, and by now many are dusting off the “old” election technology in anticipation of the event. The emphasis on the “old” is thanks to the fact that in B.C., there is no legislation that would permit anything newer than the ballot-scanning type of election machines that have been in common use over the past 12 years. We won’t have any touch-screen voting, e-mail voting or even Web-based voting for at least another three years. This technological holding pattern is all thanks to a complete lack of interest on the part of the provincial government. While Ontario local governments have had the option of offering Internet voting since 2003, B.C. voters will have to trudge to the nearest school gymnasium or community hall to cast their ballots with pen and paper.There are lots of arguments both for and against advances in voting technology and these will continue for as long as we have a democratic system of government. Proponents of voting technologies will point to the need to respond to the declining voter turnout with facilities that offer greater convenience. Opponents will point to the potential for election tampering that might arise from the use of any paperless or Internet-based voting systems. Regardless of which side of the argument you favour, there is no denying the fact that the potential for election tampering has probably existed for as long as there have been elections. Prevention of election tampering has nothing to do with the technology used and everything to do with the professionalism and independent impartiality of the people who run the election.
In terms of the opportunity to use the Internet, the major difference between B.C. election legislation and that in Ontario is that local governments in B.C. may only use mail ballot voting for persons who have an illness or physical disability.
Ontario’s legislation doesn’t contain any such restriction and it’s via the mail-in provision that Markham, Ont. became the first Canadian city to use Internet voting in 2003. The challenge for Markham in using the Internet as a facility for “mailing” in a ballot was to establish the technology necessary to provide voters with confidence in the election process. Clearly, Markham was successful in doing this, as a number of voters willingly opted for the online process and none of the predicted negative outcomes materialized.
Plenty of naysayers
It would be naïve, however, to promote Markham’s success with Internet voting as the final word on the subject. In the U.S., where a wider variety of election technologies have been in use for a number of years, there is a fairly strong groundswell of opposition against voting technologies that do not employ a paper ballot. The Verified Voting Foundation (VVF) (www.verifiedvotingfoundation.org), for example, actively opposes the enactment of legislation that would facilitate paperless voting.
There is no question that the Americans have had a number of spectacular election challenges during their history and few, if any, Canadian election officials would want to rush headlong into any technology that had the potential to reproduce such dubious results.
In spite of the experiences of our neighbors to the south, election technology progress continues to advance elsewhere in the world.
In the U.K., for example, pilot trials of election technology have been conducted over the past four years that included such diverse technologies as voting by phone, text message voting, remote and polling station-based touch-screen kiosks and voting from home by both digital TV and the Internet.
Results with these technologies have been mixed, and the U.K. has decided to continue to study the alternatives and advance slowly rather than fully endorse any particular technology.
Meanwhile in B.C., we advance not at all. It’s surely the safest path to take but as we sit idle, local government voter turnout continues to decline. This trend is particularly true for those under the age of 25.
For most voters, an interest in local politics usually coincides with home ownership.
Landholder, however, is a status that is becoming increasingly elusive for the under-25 set, thanks to rapidly increasing property values.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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