A recent survey of online voters in the Town of Markham 2006 election may point to the future of online voting in Canadian municipalities.
In partnership with the Town of Markham, the survey is part of research conducted by Toronto-based Delvinia Interactive that began in 2003 to track online voter feedback. The results of Markham residents’ e-voting experience can be found in the report entitled Understanding the Digital Voter Experience.
Of those who cast their ballot online in the 2006 election, 4,633 responded to the survey and 91 per cent said they’d be very likely to vote online again.
“It’s incredible to see such a high percentage of people saying they’d like to do it again,” says Adam Froman, president, Delvinia Interactive. “It really just validated that as part of a higher voter experience, people like having the convenience of being able to actually vote from their homes or if they’re away.”
And while online voting may in fact be more convenient than lining up at polling stations, the survey does note the criticisms of online voting, including security and voter authentication.
“I think the other municipalities are starting to realize that they’re still concerned about the perception and the fears and the issues associated with it, instead of just looking at the benefits that are there,” he says.
“Based on the work we’ve done with Markham and the related survey, it’s just impractical for them (municipalities) to not consider Internet voting as one of the options when people are already banking and shopping online.”
Alison Brooks, senior analyst for Canadian government research with IDC Canada, raises another issue that has yet to be addressed by vendors.
“The only kink in the chain is that if you put money into a bank and something goes wrong, you have a paper or an audit trail that provides security, so that justice can be done,” says Brooks. “But so far the vendors in the online voting service provision have not been able to create this kind of audit trail.”
Security fears aside, municipal interest does appear to be growing, according to Froman, who adds that there are roughly 16 municipalities that offered some form of Internet voting as opposed to about six in the previous election. “So it’s a matter of time before municipalities, particularly in Ontario, are starting to catch up.”
The need for municipalities to “catch up” is also something being driven by demographics, including new Canadians and younger Canadians, says Brooks.
“I think that governments have really no option but to figure out – in conjunction with the vendors – how to actually address all of these security and privacy concerns that underlie all the technology, so that they can have this forward-thinking, strategic approach to government services,” says Brooks.
She adds that according to IDC Canada research, only municipalities are interested in implementing electronic voting systems.
“Nobody’s adopted it and nobody’s interested in it at the federal and provincial levels,” says Brooks. “But at the municipal level, 10 per cent of our respondents were interested in acquiring, piloting, or considering electronic voting systems.”
Markham town clerk Sheila Birrell says the results from the survey are reflective of the town’s high-tech image.
“The Delvinia survey shows that our residents were very pleased with this additional service, and I think online voting will catch on eventually at all levels,” says Birrell.
Froman notes that online voting is something governments need to get onboard with sooner rather than later. “Online voting is changing the way e-democracy is happening and how people can participate in elections,” he says. “I think its going to become harder and harder for governments to dismiss online voting as an option.”
And vendors have a role to play in furthering this e-democracy, adds Brooks. “Vendors have to step up to the plate and offer some leadership in terms of actually being able to meet these government vertical specific constraints in this regard,” says Brooks.
“I think there will be uptake particularly in the citizen facing sector; we’ve seen a lot of traction in all the Service Canada, Service Ontario, and then all the 311 implementations to address that increasing need for citizen satisfaction in all sorts of capacities.”
Markham voters can now cast their e-ballot