Markham municipal election results offer case for e-voting

The Town of Markham, which is located just northeast of Toronto, saw the number of online voters grow 48 per cent in this week’s election since it introduced online voting to the community in 2003. This time around, Markham saw online voter participation jump from 7,210 voters in 2003 to 10,639 in 2006.

Ontario municipalities held elections for mayor, councillors and school trustees on November 13.

“We equate that to educating and informing voters about the importance of voting,” said Adam Froman, president of Delvinia Interactive, which handles the communications for e-voting for the town. “Markham is working with us in terms of communicating and using online to increase voter turnout.”

Registered voters that wanted to vote online were asked to register by Nov. 1 and could only vote during the advanced polling period from Nov. 4 to 9. Those who registered received a secret PIN in the mail, which enabled them to go on the Town of Markham’s Web site and vote.

The vote is then captured on an image and stored in a database that is managed by U.S.-based company, Elections Systems and Software, which has a Canadian location in Pickering, Ont.

Because Markham has 100 locations where people can vote on election day and only five during the advanced polls, the cost to have online voting on the actual day would be too high, said Sheila Birrell, Markham town clerk and returning officer.

“If it went into election day, it would be a bigger turnout,” she said. “In terms of connectivity that’s not possible.”

Overall votes cast in Markham were 58,309, up 38 per cent from 2003’s turnout of 42,198. Online voting accounted for 18.25 per cent of the overall vote, up a percentage point from 2003.

But Delvinia’s Froman said the numbers speak for themselves.

“Since voter turnout was up it demonstrated a lot of people wanted Internet voting,” he said.

The fact that online voting is gaining ground in Markham, however, is not surprising. As one of the areas in Canada with the highest densities of high-tech companies and a high ratio of people with Internet to population, it was a logical decision, said Birrell.

While people in Markham may be more likely to accept online voting, Birrell said the town undertook a risk analysis following the 2003 elections to compare other methods of voting, including online, to traditional poll counting. The results were that the risks associated with other methods of voting were minimally higher than poll counting with the highest risk in mail-in ballots.

“It has to do with how many people handle things,” she said. “It wasn’t the high kind of risk, it was the low impact risk.”

Birrell said that’s why Markham has a two-step process in place to ensure that there’s always a backup method for voting, such as poll counting.

“We have to feel comfortable that who we think is voting is actually voting,” she said, adding that a backup method is needed especially with Internet in case it goes down.

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