E-voting still expensive, fraught with security issues

The U.S. federal election showed the flaws of electronic voting, with stories circulating about candidate names appearing incorrectly on the check-out screens of the polling kiosks, power outages and untrained poll staff.

Canadian interest in electronic voting has been slower to take hold federally

and provincially, with political parties perhaps waiting for “”the go-forward solution,”” said Jonathon Hollins, Canadian director of Election Systems & Software of Omaha, Neb.

Unlike the U.S. willingness to adopt the latest technology, Canada “”is not quite there,”” explained Hollins, who’s based in Pickering, Ont. “”We don’t put as much emphasis on voting technology. I think it becomes a bit of a cost issue. We don’t have as frequent elections in Canada.””

Federal ballots are less complex than those at other government levels, generating less interest from Elections Canada to replace them with more costly electronic voting, suggested Adam Froman, president of Delvinia Interactive Inc., a digital marketing and applied research agency in Toronto.

Exploring e-voting

Voting on standalone touch-screen machines, however, which also caters to the visually impaired through an audio ballot, has been used in municipal elections held in Toronto, Edmonton and the Ontario cities of Vaughan, Brantford, Oakville and Mississauga, said Hollins.

In Ontario, Markham and Prescott have also flirted with Internet voting, which allows people to vote at home, at work, in libraries or at the polling station. The City of Vancouver and the province of Ontario are also exploring online voting for their next elections, according to Froman. “”For municipal elections, they’re very complicated — the ballots,”” including candidates running for mayor, town council and school trustee, added Froman, whose agency conducted online and in-person surveys of Markham voters.

“”From our point of view, there will always be risks with any form of electronic voting that have to be managed and monitored…but the demand is overwhelming from the voters themselves,”” said Froman.

According to Delvinia’s survey, 100 per cent of Markham residents who last year voted via the Internet said they would do it again, giving it an 86 per cent convenience factor, said Froman, adding advanced poll voting skyrocketed by 300 per cent. Delvinia collected more than 5,000 completed surveys. Of the 150,000 registered voters, 12,000 pre-registered to cast their votes electronically. Of those, more than 7,000 voted over the Internet.

“”From the voters’ point of view, (people) weren’t concerned about the security”” of voting online, Froman said. Rather, he said, the administrators of Internet voting were worried that the real voter may, in fact, not be casting a ballot.

The Town of Markham had a different take on the experiment, though. Although the systems are secure, said John Swan, client adviser in Markham’s IT department, voters are still skeptical of the online voting process, specifically the accurate undertaking of a recount or updating voter information.

Swan said one of the reasons Markham introduced this more sophisticated voting option was to capture the vote of tech-savvy youth. The democratic pilot project failed from this perspective, though. But it did work for those who were out of the country during the election but registered for the online option before leaving, he said.

Markham is uncertain whether it will repeat its online voting effort. Showcasing a solution from Election Systems & Software, the town’s e-election cost $25,000, about four times less than what the price tag would be next time, said Swan.

“”If we had to do it full-blown to attract that small segment of the marketplace, it becomes a very expensive option for the town.””

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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