Brock researcher says it’s time to prepare for online voting

A Brock University professor says the increasing participation in advance election polls is an indication that Canada is ready for online voting.

Although overall voter turnout is declining or staying low, Political Science Assistant Professor Nicole Goodman says the public’s desire is for more flexibility when it comes to voting. But advanced polls are not the only way to boost voter turnout.

In 2014, 97 of Ontario’s 444 municipalities used online voting. When Ontarians go to the polls on Monday, Oct. 22 for the 2018 municipal elections, 194 are expected to use the voting technology.

Goodman’s research indicates that a majority of voters, candidates and administrators want to see online voting implemented for elections in Canada. The primary reasons for wanting it include improved voter convenience, access and turnout.

A decade ago, the primary reasons cited by Elections Canada for low voter turnout were a lack of interest or apathy. Today, “everyday life issues” are cited as the reasons for not participating, including mobility issues, illness, being too busy or being away from home.

Goodman’s research highlights some ways technology can break down existing barriers to participation in the electoral process. Online voting, for example, enhances voter accessibility, allowing people to vote wherever they are. A candidate running in the City of Cambridge recently posted a nude photo of himself as part of an international campaign promoting online voting dubbed #VoteNaked.

For some, voting from home could be a matter of convenience. For others, such people with mobility issues, seasonal residents and those in remote communities, the technology could be the difference between voting or not.

It has also become an important tool for voter accessibility in many Indigenous communities across Canada. Goodman and fellow researchers Chelsea Gabel, of McMaster University, and Brian Budd, of the University of Guelph, have found online voting can be a key tool for engaging First Nations members living off-reserve.

Online voting could help students, as well.

“Voting is not as easy when you’re away at school,” says Goodman. “Students may be unfamiliar with the community, not know where to vote, or feel uncomfortable voting in their new community. Or they may not have the proper identification to vote locally.”

Surprisingly, Goodman found that, while some cited privacy as a key concern of online voting, others cited privacy as a benefit to the technology.

The challenge to policy-makers, she says, is to modernize voting processes while maintaining the integrity of elections. One way to enhance technical knowledge and raise the bar of security in community elections, she argues, is for the federal government to proactively collaborate and consult with experts and develop voluntary guidelines for online voting use. Although Canada has more online voting activity than most countries, there are no standards or guidelines dealing with electronic voting technologies.

“Canada should look at developing technical and operational guidelines. Such a document would boost technical knowledge in communities across the country and be a step toward enhancing electoral integrity,” Goodman says.

“Electoral modernization is going to happen,” she said recently in an interview on TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin. “Maybe it starts with an electronic voters list, registration, or maybe tabulation. But, eventually it’s going to move to online or digital voting.”

Goodman’s Electronic Elections Project with Ryerson’s Michael McGregor, University of Toronto’s Zachary Spicer and Carleton’s Scott Pruysers is continuing this research by examining what happens when paper voting is eliminated in municipal elections. The project is funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Grant.

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