Wool­wich to go with elec­tronic vot­ing in 2018

Pa­per bal­lots to dis­ap­pear in favour of online op­tions or tele­phone vot­ing when res­i­dents next head to the polls

The Woolwich Observer - - FRONT PAGE - STEVE KANNON


vot­ing elec­tron­i­cally – online or by tele­phone – when they go to the polls in next year’s mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion.

Deem­ing the tech­nol­ogy safe enough, Wool­wich coun­cil for­mally ap­proved the shift Tues­day night.

Tra­di­tional pa­per bal­lots will be re­placed by an elec­tronic ser­vice to be pro­vided by Do­min­ion Vot­ing. Those un­able or un­will­ing to vote from a de­vice or tele­phone will be able to at­tend a vot­ing site to use equip­ment pro­vided by the town­ship.

Push­ing for the change, town­ship clerk Val Hum­mel said mea­sures will be in place to en­sure every­one has a chance to vote, play­ing up the ac­ces­si­bil­ity an­gle.

“No por­tion of our pop­u­la­tion will be closed off with an elec­tion process,” she said.

Very lim­ited feed­back from the pub­lic, most of it ac­tively so­licited

online, was largely pos­i­tive, she said in a pre­sen­ta­tion to coun­cil.

The shift to e-vot­ing was pushed by Stephen Beamish, re­gional sales man­ager for Do­min­ion Vot­ing, who touted the ad­van­tages and se­cu­rity of the com­pany’s ser­vices.

The process has all of the same checks and bal­ances of the tra­di­tional reg­is­ter­ing for and com­pil­ing a vot­ers list and se­cur­ing against tam­per­ing and fraud, he stressed.

Ad­dress­ing an­other con­cern, he said the soft­ware can’t tie a voter to a spe­cific elec­tronic bal­lot, mean­ing votes re­main anony­mous.

In the event of a close race and a re­count, the process would be done elec­tron­i­cally again, but the sys­tem has the abil­ity to print out a pa­per record of each vote cast.

Re­spond­ing to a ques­tion from Coun. Larry Shantz, Beamish said vot­ers can ef­fec­tively spoil a bal­lot by sub­mit­ting a blank form.

While the ma­jor­ity of coun­cil­lors were swayed – the fi­nal vote was 4-1, with Coun. Patrick Mer­li­han the lone dis­senter – lo­cal res­i­dent Dr. Mark Yaniszewksi, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence lec­turer, re­mained un­con­vinced.

“A move to In­ter­net vot­ing would be a mis­take,” he told coun­cil­lors, not­ing stud­ies have shown that elec­tronic vot­ing doesn’t de­liver what pro­po­nents tout, while posing risks, par­tic­u­larly to se­cu­rity.

“Most of the promised ben­e­fits of online vot­ing have not ma­te­ri­al­ized,” he said. “Higher voter turnout? Is it true? The an­swer for most groups is no,” he said, not­ing that in­cludes younger vot­ers, as a Bri­tish Columbia study found they were the least likely to vote elec­tron­i­cally.

Com­puter fraud and er­rors are the big­gest concerns, said Yaniszewksi, as there is no pa­per trail to fall back on.

“It is too easy for the sys­tem to fail.”

He dis­missed com­par­isons to online shop­ping, not­ing some of the largest com­pa­nies have been hacked. Also, con­sumers have many ways to en­sure their online trans­ac­tion was com­pleted sat­is­fac­to­rily, most no­tably the ar­rival of the or­dered goods. That’s not true of online vot­ing, where there is no way of en­sur­ing your vote has been reg­is­tered as cast.

Shop­ping is one thing, but for vot­ing, the sys­tems to­day aren’t suf­fi­ciently safe, he main­tained.

Coun­cil­lors ap­peared ready to em­brace the tech­nol­ogy, how­ever.

“I think it’s time to move for­ward,” said Shantz. “Any­thing that makes it eas­ier ... will help.”

While elec­tronic vot­ing is slightly more ex­pen­sive than the di­rect costs of tra­di­tional polling sta­tions and bal­lots – $32,000 ver­sus $28,000 – the over­all costs of hold­ing an elec­tion are ex­pected to be sim­i­lar at about $75,000.

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