Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Why hasn't Canada implemented e-voting for federal elections?

Millions of Canadians are set to hit the polls on October 19 to elect a new federal government, deciding whether or not Stephen Harper and the incumbent Conservative Party will continue to lead Canada for the next few years. Both the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Liberal Party of Canada represent significant threats to Stephen Harper, but one issue that hasn't been discussed nearly enough is the lack of a modernized election system in a highly developed country that is otherwise very forward-thinking.

Indeed, while various levels of voting automation have been implemented in such countries as Brazil and India, all federal elections in Canada up until now have relied solely on manual voting. In an age that is far more digital than ever before, it is time for Canada to reconsider how it runs its elections.

Whereas the specific voting practices in the United States are determined at the state or even more local level, such is not the case in Canada. Instead, a set of standards are dictated by the Canada Elections Act. This allows for uniformity across the nation, but it also means that change can be very slow.

More test projects have been attempted in smaller elections in Canada, like in the city of Saskatoon, but not real progress has been made in having greater voting technology fully adopted at the federal level. As it stands, most voters must make a physical appearance at a designated voting place, fill out a paper ballot, and submit the paper ballot to one of the electoral staff. The ballots may be counted electronically, but they are still paper ballots.

The availability of physical polling places is important; but they should be updated and upgraded with better technology to speed up the process, allow no human errors, fewer spoiled ballots, greater security, greater efficiency and improved voter turnout. The advantages of electronic voting cannot be understated, including the flexibility to include more candidates in complex elections and better access for voters with disabilities.

Another option that should be considered alongside e-voting machines at polling places is the possibility of Internet-based voting. Canada can look to the positive examples set by countries like Estonia for this purpose, offering great security and authentication throughout the i-voting process. The youth vote could increase and modern voters would appreciate the greater convenience.

There are questions whether or not the current Conservative government in Canada is holding back the evolution and deployment of online voting. The primary demographic who support the Conservative Party in Canada tend to be more traditional in their sociopolitical views and they tend to skew toward older people. By contrast, supporters of the NDP and Liberal parties are more progressive in mindset and tend to skew toward the younger demographic, precisely the group that i-voting and e-voting would appeal to.

It would be impossible for the Canadian government to make any real changes to the election in October. However, particularly if a new party is elected, progressive change in Canada's electoral process should be highly encouraged in time for the next federal election. Canada needs to move into the 21st century in this regard.