Voting online: convenient or dangerous?

A Whitby family enters an elections polling station on October 21, 2019, with a ballot in hand. Photo credit: Tracey Bowers-Lee

Millions of Canadians voted last Monday in a federal election. They voted by heading to a polling station in their neighbourhood.

Others voted prior to election day at advance polls. Those voters also had to make their way to a polling station in their community.

Meantime, Canadians living outside the country also had a chance to vote in a process that involved mailing a ballot.

According to Elections Canada, 65.95 per cent of registered voters showed up at the polls to vote in the Oct. 21 election, compared to 68.5 per cent in 2015.

It begs the question – should Canadians be allowed to vote online?

It has happened, but not in a federal election.

In a 2016 municipal byelection in Whitby, internet and telephone voting were used for the first time in Durham Region. The results were deemed a success by local officials, with an increase of 2.2 per cent in votes cast, compared to having voters go to polling stations, but the issue of risk was heavily debated.

Citing concerns around security, Whitby council rejected the idea of continuing with any form of online and telephone voting in the 2018 municipal election.

Similar concerns are the reason online voting has not been introduced at the federal level, officials say.

“It is not likely that Canadians will be voting electronically in the near future,” said David Mathews, executive director for the Canadian Media Elections Consortium.

“Everyone is scared about hacking and with good reason,” he added.

Federal officials examined the possibility of adding online voting years in advance of the Oct. 21 federal election.

But in 2016, the Special Committee on Electoral Reform said they had no plans to introduce online voting for the just completed federal election.

“I think there’s still a lot of research to be done and there are many considerations,” Stéphane Perrault, Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, said at the time.

Perrault said the most important thing is preserving the “confidentiality, secrecy, reliability and integrity of the process and the voters.”

He also explained Canada does not have a universal identification system which makes it difficult to authenticate electors and therefore implement online voting.

Political parties in Canada worked to get the vote out on election day. Some local candidates organized transportation to help voters get to the polls.

There were also four days of advance voting, which according to Elections Canada, yielded a 29 per cent increase from the last election.

“The advanced voting was a success. Fewer people seem to be voting on election day because it’s a workday,” said Mathews.

Mathews suggested Elections Canada could enhance voter convenience by having elections on a weekend but acknowledges there are very few places in the world that afford that courtesy. According to reports, Greece, Australia and Brazil are countries that do hold federal elections on weekends.

The Chronicle spoke with students on campus and they were universal in their support of moving to an online voting system.

Chin-Ting Sherwin, a marketing business student at Durham College, said online voting would make it more convenient for busy students like her to vote easier and faster.

“I have school, I have extracurriculars, I have a job, I have my parents, I have my grandparents at home. This morning I was at the hospital with them,” said Sherwin.

“I have mine and my mom’s ballots with me. I’m picking her up after I leave here and we are going to vote.”

Astrophysics student Alexis Poliacik shares the same sentiment.

“I would vote if it were online. It would be much easier. I’m going to have to get off at a different (bus) stop to get to my voting booth,” said Poliacik.

Corey Gohn, an animation student, said he was fortunate advance polls were held during Thanksgiving weekend when he was home in Niagara.

“It would be more convenient, especially for people like me who actually have to travel to a different region to vote,” said Gohn.

“If it wasn’t I probably wouldn’t have voted. I’d be here (at school) and I don’t think I can vote here (Oshawa). I think I have to vote in my region.”