Increasingly, it is difficult to recruit and train the 70,000 people needed to administer a provincial election. It is harder to find locations for polls, as schools are no longer available, fewer locations can be rented and it is harder to find voting locations accessible for the physically challenged, the report states.
Besides accommodating people with these challenges, the ability of snowbirds, the military and post-secondary students – people who many not be in their jurisdiction during an election, are also a concern.
Alternative voting technology, where people can cast and count votes electronically via phone, computer or the Internet, is an important component of the necessary changes.
Out of Ontario’s 444 municipalities, only 44 use alternative voting technology, also known as network voting. Cobourg is one of those who has adopted this approach, using a system in the last election in 2010.
Still, the system is far from perfect. As the report clearly identifies, there are security concerns. Digital authentication is not available, denial of service occurs – whether deliberate or inadvertent. There is a lack of transparency for audits or recounts, since a paper trail is not available. There are also concerns about the digital divide, a gap between people who can access the technology and those who cannot.
Finally, network voting is costly.
Of those 44 municipalities who did use alternative voting technology in the last municipal election, 33 experienced system delays on Election Day due to a wide range of problems from overloading to hardware problems. Cobourg experienced sufficient glitches that it was forced to extend voting.
These are not insurmountable issues. As the chief electoral officer admits, there must be better oversight of vendors who are contracted to provide the software and hardware, suggesting greater control by his office. And, there needs to be further advancements to address security issues.
Despite all this, network voting needs to be adopted by more municipalities in Northumberland. Quinte West is currently expanding its system this fall in time for the election. Central Hastings is also reviewing its system.
What cannot happen is the kind of crushing reforms being undertaken by the federal government under its Fair Elections Act. As countless organizations, including our own local Fair Vote Canada, have pointed out, it will make our country less democratic.
While many voters still like to make an “x” on a paper ballot in gymnasiums and church basements across the county, the future of elections lies in opening the system to new methods and other tools to increase participation. Municipal leaders and voters need to see past the challenges and expense. Our democracy depends on it.
First published: Feb. 11, 2014