Panel recommends against online voting in B.C. 

Whistler mayor 'disappointed' in findings considering success of mail-in voting at last election

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It appears Whistlerites won't have the chance to vote online during next year's municipal elections after a panel recommended against the move for B.C. in a report released last week.

That's disappointing news to Whistler mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden after the success seen using mail-in ballots in 2011.

"We saw good success with mail-in voting and I am disappointed that online voting isn't going to happen, at least not in the near future," said Wilhelm-Morden. "I think there was a discussion around running (online voting) as a pilot project, but we won't be inclined to do that with this report from Elections BC."

Whistler flocked to the polls in the 2011 municipal elections, with a 20 per cent jump in voter turnout compared to 2008. Of the nearly 4,000 who cast a ballot, almost 10 per cent voted using the mail-in option, the first time it was available.

A five-member Independent Panel on Internet Voting was struck by Elections BC last year to review the potential for implementing online voting for provincial and municipal elections.

The panel looked at jurisdictions in Nova Scotia and Ontario who already use some form of Internet voting in local government elections, and the findings suggested the move to online did not increase voter turnout, as some had hoped.

"One of the striking things we discovered in looking at the data is there wasn't a consistent relationship between Internet voting and voter turnout," said Elections BC Chief Electoral Officer Keith Archer. "Although many proponents suggest that this is one of the principal reasons for favouring Internet voting, when you look at the data in a number of jurisdictions it just doesn't produce the results you would think."

Archer cited the example of last year's municipal elections in Halifax, where voters had the option to vote in advance during a 13-day period ahead of Election Day. While over 60 per cent of those who voted used the online option, voter turnout was among the lowest in Halifax history at around 37 per cent.

"That case is not alone when you look at other local governments that offer Internet voting now," said Archer. "In many cases a far smaller portion of the electorate used Internet voting, but even where it's used its effect on turnout is at best mixed; sometimes it goes up, sometimes it goes down, sometimes it doesn't change at all."

Archer did note that voter turnout for municipal elections tends to fluctuate more than for senior levels of government, but the availability of an online voting option was not strongly correlated to turnout nonetheless.

Internet voting has also been touted by its supporters as a way to engage more with younger voters, but the panel found the demographic most likely to vote online was middle-aged to older people, said Archer.

The panel did find, however, that if the province were to go ahead with online voting that officials should focus on voters with difficulty accessing the polls.

"If that means there's a larger number of voters who are not present in the community during the general election ... or voters who have some kind of impairment that makes it more challenging for them to get to the polls, these seem to be good starting points for a broader implementation of Internet voting," Archer said.

A major concern around online voting has been the potential security issues, with the panel's report stating, "voting over the Internet has a set of unique challenges that inevitably introduce a number of additional risks."

In the event of implementation, the panel recommended the establishment of a technical committee to review particular Internet voting options proposed by vendors, and to ensure local and provincial government officials have the expertise necessary to maintain a high standard of voting security.

The Independent Panel on Internet Voting is inviting British Columbians to provide input on the potential impact of online voting until Dec. 4.

To give feedback, or view the panel's report, visit www.internetvotingpanel.ca.

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