What is Electronic Voting?
Electronic voting is a type of electoral mechanism where a ballot is cast by internet, phone or kiosk.
Municipal councils in 15 municipalities authorized the use of electronic voting in the 2012 Municipal and Schoolboard Elections. Collectively, these municipalities represented 432,000 of the 617,000 eligible voters in Nova Scotia.
Section 146A of the Municipal Elections Act bestows municipal council with the legislative authority to select the method and system of voting. Council's role is to approve the electoral mechanism, election budget, election by-law and ensure that the method and system of voting are able to deliver fair elections and accurate results.
The electronic voting process isn't hard-and-fast, it can be tailored to the preferences of Council.
In past municipal elections, Nova Scotia municipalities have offered e-voting: only during advanced polls; during advanced polls and on election day; and in tandem with traditional paper ballot voting on election day.
Municipal councils have authorized the use of several electoral mechanisms in Nova Scotia Municipal and Schoolboard Elections. These include
Traditional mechanisms, such as:
- Paper ballots;
- Proxy ballots; and
- Mail-in Ballots;
And electronic mechanisms, such as:
- Internet ballots;
- Telephone ballots; and
- Kiosk ballots.
There are benefits and risks associated with each option. Council must determine whether the benefits of a particular option (or combination of options) outweigh potential risks.
The Realities of Electronic Voting
Electronic Voting is Accessible and Convenient
On average, it took 1 minute 31 seconds to vote by internet during 2012 Municipal and Schoolboard elections (this figure does not include HRM).
Surveys of non-voters indicate that being too busy, out of town or ill/disabled is a reason that they did not vote (Statistics Canada, 2013).
The vote-from-anywhere-anytime convenience of electronic voting eliminates these obstacles.
E-voting also enables electors with disabilities to vote independently. This provides greater anonymity which enhances the equality of the vote (Goodman, 2010: 15).
The incremental financial cost to a voter casting an electronic ballot is also less than that for an individual voting in-person after having taken time off work, traveling to a polling place and obtaining childcare.
As municipal officials, we work on behalf of the taxpayer. It is our duty to ensure the most efficient use of the public's dollar to increase accessibility and convenience.
Electronic Voting is Popular Among Voters
"The experience from [municipal] jurisdictions that have offered Internet voting is that growing numbers of electors choose it over traditional, in-person options with each subsequent election" (Elections BC, 2011: 18).
When Nova Scotian voters were offered the option of an electronic or paper ballot during 2012 Municipal and Schoolboard elections, the electronic option was the choice of 64% of voters.
Post-election surveys indicate that a voter who has cast an electronic ballot will continue to vote electronically in future elections. For example, 98% of voters who cast an electronic ballot during 2014 Ontario Municipal elections said that they would vote electronically in the next municipal election (Goodman, 2014).
Electronic Voting is Not the Sole Solution to Declining Voter Turnout
A study on electronic voting commissioned by the City of Edmonton found that there is "no conclusive evidence that shows introducing internet voting will have a positive impact on turnout...it is not a solution to the social and political causes of non-voting" (Goodman, 2012: 20).
This assessment is supported by Bochsler's (2010) examination of Estonia's 2007 parliamentary election which determined that voters who cast electronic ballots would have otherwise voted in-person at a polling station. Similarly, Delvinia Interactive's (2011) survey of Markham, ON voters found that voters who cast an electronic ballot reported voting in the most elections at all levels of government.
This suggests that committed voters are most likely to take advantage of the e-voting option.
“[I]t is nearly impossible to make voters lists complete and accurate in advance of Election Day” (Neufeld, 2013: 22).
Inaccuracies in voters lists are a problem that is common to all elections and not specific to e-voting.
In 2012, inaccuracies in HRM’s municipal voters list caused some households to receive voter information cards for non-household members. These cards included the personal identification number that is needed to vote electronically.
This received extensive coverage in the local media although a password is required to use the PIN, only 3-5% of notifications were incorrect and no instances of voter fraud emerged during or after elections.
It is important to note that opening someone else’s mail is illegal, as is impersonating another elector. Both offenses are punishable by fine or imprisonment.
"There has been no evidence of vote tampering or rigging in a public election using Internet voting" (Elections BC, 2011: 27).
The only instance of denial-of-service attacks during an election occurred on March 24th, 2012 while delegates were voting for the leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada. In-spite of the denial of service attacks the voting system was not comprised, only delayed.
In an online survey of municipal election administrators from Nova Scotia and Ontario, 92% of respondents did not report any security related issues with electronic voting. Those issues that were reported were related to system design and were not malicious (MacWilliam, 2014: 2).
The Digital Divide
The digital divide refers to the gap between the computer literate and the computer illiterate. It is composed of two major barriers: access to and comfort with technology (Belanger 2010: 204).
Income-particularly the ability to afford a computer with internet-has a strong influence on one's intent to vote electronically (Oostveen 2004: 10).
The influence of income has lessened as smartphones, tablets and other computers have become cheaper and more ubiquitous.
The digital divide based on age, income and level of internet use is narrowing in Nova Scotia (Statistics Canada, 2010). This trend reflects a general societal shift towards greater technological fluency.
Internet voting is always offered along with a telephone voting option to ensure complete coverage of the electorate.
99.2% of households in Nova Scotia have a landline or cellular phone (Statistics Canada, 2015). Event statistics from 2012 Municipal and Schoolboard elections indicate that telephone voting appeals to voters over the age of 60.
A comparison of electronic and paper ballots cast, by age group, demonstrates electronic voting is more representative of the total voting population's demographics than is in-person voting.
This indicates that electronic voting is replacing in-person voting as the default voting option
Do the Risks Outweigh the Benefits?
"No electoral mechanism (electronic or paper) can ever be absolutely secure from every possible offense or risk" (Elections Canada, 2013: 25).
The reality is that all electoral mechanisms carry a certain amount of risk. It is the responsibility of the Returning Officer to manage these risks as best they can.
It is also incumbent upon electors not to engage in prohibited activity or corrupt practices respecting the vote.
The question we must ask ourselves is whether the risks of electronic voting are an acceptable trade-off for increased accessibility and convenience?
E-voting Services Bulk Purchase
Origins of the Project
Conceived post-2012 Election.
Elections Review Committee recommended exploring bulk purchase of municipal e-voting services.
The group started discussions during the winter of 2014/2015.
Reasons for the Bulk Purchase
Following 2012 Municipal and School Board elections, the Elections Review Committee (2013: 22-23) determined that a bulk purchase of electronic voting services could bring many benefits to municipalities including:
- Financial savings;
- Consistency in approach; and
- Opportunities for smaller municipal units to affordably provide e-voting.
As a result, the Province of Nova Scotia approached the Association of Municipal Administrators Nova Scotia (AMANS) and requested that the Association coordinate a bulk purchase of e-voting services and develop a model e-voting by-law in time for 2016 Municipal and Schoolboard elections.
AMANS has been working with Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) on this project through AMANS E-Voting Services Bulk Purchase Committee, which is chaired by Lori McKinnon, Election Coordinator, HRM.
HRM has agreed to take the lead on this project because:
- It aligns with HRM’s commitment to foster meaningful collaboration across municipal units;
- HRM has the most experience with electronic voting, having offered e-voting to Haligonians in two municipal elections and one special election; and
- HRM has the legal, logistical and technological resources on staff to develop a robust Request for Proposals (RFP) that is inclusive of other municipal units.
What is the Proposed Plan?
A non-binding e-voting RFP will be posted late summer 2015.
The RFP process will be led by HRM and facilitated by HRM Procurement Department.
The RFP will be based on legislation and business practices to conduct a municipal and schoolboard election in Nova Scotia.
The HRM process is to post and conditionally award dependent on council’s direction. This enables the respective election offices to provide council with the best plan and budgetary information. A recommendation report is provide to Halifax Regional Council in September one year prior to the election.
Two other municipal units, one large and one small, will be invited to participate in the RFP evaluation.
The vender will be require to conduct a proof of concept to demonstrate that it is capable of fulfilling the service requirements outlined in the RFP.
What Does this Mean for Other Municipal Units?
Inclusion on a list of municipalities who are interested in being part of the RFP.
No contractual obligation to municipal units listed if they decide another course of action.
Any agreement will be solely between the individual municipal unit and the vendor. HRM will not be a party to the external agreements.
How can my Municipal Unit join the Bulk Purchase?
Bélanger, F., & Carter, L. (2010). The Digital Divide and Internet Voting Acceptance. In Digital Society, 2010. ICDS'10. Fourth International Conference on E-Voting (pp. 307-310). IEEE.
Bochsler, D. (2010). Can Internet Voting Increase Political Participation? Remote Electronic Voting and Turnout in the Estonian 2007 Parliamentary elections. In Prepared for presentation at the conference ‘Internet and Voting’, Fiesole, June (pp. 3-4).
Delvinia Interactive. (2011). eDemocracy and Citizen Engagement: The Delvinia Report on Internet Voting in the City of Markham.
Elections BC. (2011). Discussion Paper: Internet Voting.
Elections Review Committee. (2013). Municipal and Schoolboard Elections Issues Review and Recommendations.
Goodman, N. (2014). The 2014 Municipal Elections and Election Modernization [Video Webinar]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qt0luCSRhE4
Goodman, N. (2012). Issues Guide: Internet Voting. Edmonton: The Centre for Public Involvement, University of Alberta.
Goodman, N., Pammett, J. H. & DeBardeleben, J. (2010). A Comparative Assessment of Electronic Voting. Report Prepared for Elections Canada.
MacWilliam, P. (2014). Online Voting in Local Government Elections.
Municipal Elections Act: An Act to Revise and Consolidate the Statutory Provisions Respecting Municipal Elections. (2015). R.S., c. 300, s. 1.
Neufeld, H. (2013). Compliance Review: Final Report and Recommendations.
Oostveen, A. M., & Van den Besselaar, P. (2004). Internet Voting Technologies and Civic Participation: the Users’ Perspective. Javnost-the public, 11(1), 61-78.
Roy, J. (2015). Voter Engagement in Halifax: Starting the Discussion.
Schwartz, B. & Grice, D. (2013). Establishing a Legal Framework for E-voting in Canada. Report Prepared for Elections Canada.
Statistics Canada. (2015). Table 203-0027 – Survey of household spending (SHS), dwelling characteristics and household equipment at time of interview, Canada, regions and provinces.
Statistics Canada. (2010). Table 358-0122 – Canadian Internet use survey, Internet use, by location of access, Canada, provinces and selected census metropolitan areas.