B.C.’s Liberal government is looking at the possibility of using Internet voting in future provincial elections, it was announced Thursday.
Justice Minister and Attorney General Shirley Bond has requested the province’s chief electoral officer appoint an independent panel to review best practices for Internet voting for use in both provincial and municipal elections, and identify any barriers.
“Our province is widely recognized as being technologically progressive and a leader in open government initiatives,” Bond said Thursday.
“If the independent panel determines we can maintain the utmost electoral integrity, I’m optimistic Internet voting could increase accessibility for British Columbians to participate in the democratic process.”
The move makes good on a promise by Premier Christy Clark last year to modernize B.C.’s electoral process in an effort to increase voter turnout.
According to Elections B.C., provincial voter turnout has declined from 70.5 per cent of eligible voters in 1983 to 51 per cent in 2009.
Nola Western, deputy chief electoral officer at Elections B.C., said the panel will likely need until 2014 to recommend changes to the Election Act that would permit online voting. Independent experts on Internet security and electoral administration will be asked to serve on the committee, with a first meeting expected by October.
Elections B.C. already has online voter registration, as well as data sharing with the federal voters’ list, ICBC and the B.C. Vital Statistics Agency to keep the voters’ list up to date.
Western said online voting has been used in Halifax and Markham, Ont., but has not yet been tried at the provincial or federal level in Canada.
However, the security issues involved with Internet voting concern local NDP MLA Michael Sather.
“The most secure form of voting is the old fashioned way,” Sather said. “When you go to the polls, you should show ID. It’s certainly more secure than a PIN number, which can get passed around easily.”
While Sather admits declining voter turnout is an issue, Internet-based voting brings with it far more serious issues.
“I don’t have any ready-made solutions, but clearly people are not as engaged with the political process as some would like,” he said.
“But I’m not convinced [Internet voting] is what we want.”
A discussion paper published by Elections B.C. last year notes that strong concerns have been raised by computer security experts in the United States about the potential for an Internet voting system to be targeted for a cyber-attack and the challenges in protecting such a system.
Countries, such as as the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Germany, are moving away from Internet and other forms of electronic voting due concerns over security and transparency.
The Elections B.C. report also notes there is inconclusive evidence regarding how Internet voting affects overall turnout.
However, should Internet voting replace in-person voting, there could be substantial labour cost savings. Close to $11.5 million was paid to hire 37,000 election officials during the 2009 provincial election.