With U.S. voting lines snaking around city blocks in the depths of a global pandemic, researchers at Brock are sharing their latest findings on the potential of online voting to improve election procedures for both voters and candidates.
Recent graduate Amanda Tieber (MA ’20, BA ’19), under the supervision of Associate Professor Nicole Goodman in the Department of Political Science, completed her major research paper on the impact of online voting on candidates’ election experience and their campaign process by drawing on municipal elections. Based on her analysis, she also offers key policy recommendations for future governments.
Tieber’s paper relies on survey data collected after Ontario’s 2014 municipal elections as part of the Internet Voting Project, led by Goodman.
The study shows that while almost three-quarters of surveyed candidates were satisfied with the security and effectiveness of the online voting process, they have also learned their campaigns need to be designed differently to accommodate it.
“Where online voting is offered, the beginning portion of campaigns is more crucial than in traditional voting situations, since the number of advance voters increases greatly,” says Tieber.
The current pandemic has dramatically altered early voting in the U.S. election, and depending on the status of the global pandemic in 2022, many municipalities may look to adopt online voting for the next election. Luckily, here in Canada, they would be following a growing trend rather than starting from scratch.
“Overall, there have been more instances of online voting in binding elections in Canada than any other country,” says Tieber, adding that among 444 Ontario municipalities, the number of municipal elections using online voting grew from 20 in 2006 to 177 in 2018, offering online voting to an estimated 2.71 million electors.
Tieber also found that candidates were expected to have answers about online voting when they hit the campaign trail, which led to one of her six policy recommendations — having an education plan in place for both candidates and voters.
“By understanding the implications internet voting has on candidates’ election experience and campaigns, municipalities are able to educate candidates about remote voting early on,” says Tieber. “This also allows candidates to become an asset in promoting internet voting by educating the public about the process.”
Since one of the primary concerns with online voting is accessibility, especially for seniors and individuals who may not have access to reliable internet, Tieber also recommends that municipalities create opportunities for making voting technology available and easy to use.
“This is being achieved through municipal collaboration with public areas such as libraries and community centres that can provide electors with public computers,” says Tieber. “While many offer information sessions around election time, another option is to deliver seminars throughout the year to teach electors about new voting methods.”
Tieber’s paper also has recommendations around keeping technology up to date by investing in research and ensuring that technical standards are provided to election officials — something that Goodman and her colleague Aleksander Essex from Western University are working on — and emphasizes the importance of co-operation between levels of government, stressing that the Municipal Elections Acts and other legislation will require revisions based on an online context.
“Amanda’s review of candidates’ election experiences with online voting is timely, particularly given the pressure for governments to offer remote voting as the COVID-19 pandemic persists,” says Goodman. “While the literature has more deeply explored the effects of online voting on voters and administrators, studies of the candidate perspective have been more limited, so she makes an important contribution to scholarly research in the areas of elections, campaigns, local government, digital technology and Ontario politics.
“Amanda’s work provides a good start to understand the candidate experience with online voting more deeply,” Goodman adds. “Future work could look at whether there has been an evolution in candidate attitudes since election interference has become more of an issue following the 2016 U.S. election.”
For now, Tieber plans to share her findings with municipal administrators by writing an article based on her research for the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario.