Politicians like Christy Clark and Dianne Watts promote online voting despite its dismal record

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      Proposals to introduce online voting in municipal elections appear to be gathering steam among B.C. cities, but the idea is facing criticism from some elections experts.

      The City of Coquitlam will be debating a proposal on Monday to introduce online voting, while the City of Vancouver recently passed a motion asking the city clerk’s office to look into the feasibility of launching an online voting pilot project in time for the next municipal election.

      Surrey mayor Dianne Watts has also spoken in support of the model, and last month B.C. Liberal leadership candidate Christy Clark floated the idea of introducing online voting at the provincial level.

      Proponents say allowing people to cast their ballot from home or work would increase voter turnout, at a time when participation is at a provincial average of 35 percent.

      But some political observers are cautioning against a system that one elections expert says would be virtually impossible to verify.

      University of Pennsylvania professor Steven Freeman, director and principal investigator with the U.S.-based group Election Integrity, said that in a secret ballot with online voting, “there’s virtually no way to ensure the integrity of the count.”

      “You have to look at the details of every one, but I think almost in principle, it’s not possible,” Freeman, author of Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count, told the Straight by phone. “Because how do you really confirm that in fact your vote is counted as cast on an online vote or any electronic voting system?”

      Freeman said that in the United States, online voting projects, such as a pilot for overseas voters in Washington, D.C. that was hacked into during a testing phase last fall, have been “an absolute disaster.”

      University of Victoria political science professor Dennis Pilon echoed Freeman’s concerns over security, particularly given examples in the United States.

      “You don’t want to have rules that are so draconian that people can’t exercise their right to vote, but on the other hand you need to have a certain level of security to make sure that people aren’t voting twice,” said Pilon, who used to be a provincial elections administrator.

      “I think there are a lot of concerns about the spread of this kind of electronic form of voting in the United States, and it seems that a lot of the push to get these things is coming from the corporate lobbyists, and not necessarily from the public,” he added.

      But Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer, who introduced a motion passed by council on January 20 to examine the feasibility of a 2011 online voting pilot, said there are risks to every voting system.

      “There’s risks to changing a voting system, but there’s also a huge risk to a 30 percent voter turnout,” she said.

      Reimer said 46 Canadian municipalities have successfully completed online voting pilot projects, including Markham, Peterborough and Halifax.

      The Vancouver councillor said she’s received positive feedback on her motion from voters who think the model would increase voter participation, which she said was her main motivation in raising the issue.

      “A large part of the reason I ran for school board and again for council was just a long trajectory of trying to figure out how to get people under 40 involved in voting,” Reimer told the Straight.

      Reimer said if the clerk’s office determines an online voting pilot would be feasible for the upcoming election, then council will debate the merits of introducing such a pilot.

      “I just think it’s an issue of when we’ll do online voting, and not if, so I think it’s a good time to look at it,” she said.

      The City of Coquitlam will debate a motion on Monday, February 7, that also seeks to increase voter turnout through online voting.

      The motion, introduced by Coquitlam councillor Linda Reimer, calls for the provincial government to pass legislation to allow municipalities to conduct online voting.

      “If it’s being done safely and securely in other jurisdictions, then I don’t see why we can’t do the same in ours,” she said, noting that voter turnout in the 2008 Coquitlam election was just 21.5 percent.

      While her motion suggests the city try to launch a pilot online voting project in time for the municipality’s 2011 election, she said her understanding from the provincial government is that implementing such an initiative wouldn't be feasible this year.

      Linda Reimer said she has received some negative feedback to her proposal, including critical comments from some fellow Coquitlam councillors, whom she said have voiced concerns about the security of an online voting system. ”˜

      This concern, argued Freeman, is the most critical issue in the online voting debate.

      “If you don’t have integrity, then nothing else matters,” he said. “What does it matter if voters are turning out and then the election’s a fraud? Unless you ensure that the count is right, then everything else is immaterial.”

      You can follow Yolande Cole on Twitter at twitter.com/yolandecole.

      Comments

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      15 Comments

      Bruno15

      Feb 5, 2011 at 12:03am

      So a major problem that currently prevents people from voting once very four years in a provincial election is that it's too much of an effort to go a block or two to get to a polling station? I cannot foresee of any on-line system that would require less effort than it takes currently. This idea appears preposterous.

      12 6Rating: +6

      The Liberal Cat

      Feb 5, 2011 at 12:46am

      Does this mean I get to vote?

      11 6Rating: +5

      ezekiel bones

      Feb 5, 2011 at 1:29am

      While I would be the last person to shun innovation, in some cases, old fashioned is better. The problem is two-fold in a electronic system.

      If you try to verify votes, there must, as a necessity, be personal data attached to the vote.

      If you don't verify votes then why should I believe whoever is running the computer that the total is what it should be.

      The wonder of the paper voting system is you are not allowed into the ballot box until you provide some reasonable proof you are a citizen - but once you are in there no one knows how you voted.

      I think that SECRET ballots are an integral part of the voting system. If votes become attached to ID it makes things like direct vote buying easier to do. (This is the reason why your paper ballot will be disqualified if their is an identifying mark on it - people used to sign their ballots - then the candidate would pay them up later for their support).

      In an electronic system all votes would have to be signed or there would be no way of verifying the validity of the vote.

      11 5Rating: +6

      ezekiel bones

      Feb 5, 2011 at 1:31am

      Also, people are not voting not because it is not convenient, but because they perceive the political system and those that inhabit it as self-serving.

      6 5Rating: +1

      Taxpayers R Us

      Feb 5, 2011 at 6:47am

      I'd support it if they had a solid security plan. Not a big fan of standing in lineups for any length of time.

      7 9Rating: -2

      Barbara Simons

      Feb 5, 2011 at 10:54am

      I note that not a single computer security expert was interviewed for this article. That might explain why almost everyone seems to be ignoring the elephant in the room, which is the gross insecurity of internet voting. As Steven Freeman pointed out, a test run of a recent internet voting pilot in Washington DC was easily hacked by a computer science professor and his student who were in Michigan, far away from DC. Just yesterday we learned that Nasdaq had been broken into by hackers. Do internet voting advocates seriously think that election officials will be better able to protect their system against intruders than Nasdaq?

      In addition, people's computers are routinely infected by viruses. Vast amounts of money have been stolen by malicious software. It would be relatively easy to design an election rigging virus that would infect potential voters' computers and modify their votes.

      Furthermore, there is no way to verify or conduct a recount of an internet based election, since it is impossible to know if the version of the ballot received by election officials reflects the will of the voter. It is impossible for the voter to know if the version of his/her ballot shown on the voter's screen is the same as the version sent to election officials.

      Given all of this, how can any responsible politician even contemplate internet voting?

      6 6Rating: 0

      glen p robbins

      Feb 5, 2011 at 12:15pm

      Integrity in our political system is not good. Increasing the opportunity for more doubt to be dumped onto the problem is either foolish or self serving.

      Increasing voter turn out is a function of those seeking (and gaining) political office, and those independent offices of government gaining credibility with the population coupled with new independent voices becoming involved in a culture that is either captured by special interest $$, to whom all political actors in this province are beholden and for whom primarily they act.

      Realizing this truth and accepting it is the beginning.

      I suspect the real motivation for raising the issue of Online voting is to prepare the public for an Online vote on the HST which Elections BC has indicated it cannot hold for 9 months, and which will cost $30 million - facts which will destroy the BC Liberal government.

      Both politicians cited, Linda Reimer and Dianne Watts support business and the HST. BC Liberal leadership candidate Kevin Falcon is from Surrey, a type of Campbell clone - and like all BC Liberal leadership candidates, an HST supporter.

      The BC Liberal Party has already proven itself far short on integrity. The inability to hold the Referendum on the HST by June as promised by all candidates will -- unequivocally destroy the public confidence in the party - they have no choice. I would approach this Online voting idea with a great deal of skepticism not simply for the reason that it is unproven, but more importantly for the reason that at this time in this province - an unproven method in the midst of a desperate government - that has little to lose - is more than likely up to no good---On line.

      7 5Rating: +2

      Julie

      Feb 5, 2011 at 12:42pm

      No way, no electronic voting. BC is far too corrupt a province for that. Even trusting Craig James of Elections BC has been a challenge. He changed the wording of the recall, after the fact. He and Campbell used some very dirty tactics, against the recall. Trust Elections BC, not on your Nelly, we would be out of our minds, to trust electronic voting. Good grief people!! There is not one decent honorable, anything left in this province. Campbell and the BC Liberals, the courts, judges, the RCMP, the FOI tampered with, the media propaganda machine. BC is a cesspool.

      8 4Rating: +4

      Jim Soper

      Feb 5, 2011 at 12:55pm

      1) With a mission critical system, you need a fallback when things go wrong.. In elections, this is the paper ballot. When all else fails, you can count the ballots by hand. Internet voting has no paper. When something goes wrong, and it will, the whole election can be lost because there is no fallback. Indeed, there is no way to even check if something has gone wrong. because you have nothing to check against the computer-based data.

      2) Aside from the inherent vulnerabilities of any computer system, especially home computer systems, an Internet-based system is open to attack by anyone on the planet. Think of your most evil bad guys. Do you really want to give them an opening to cast 100,000 votes on your system? Or to just shut is down on election day by flooding it with millions of messages from the Internet?

      The Internet was not designed from the start with security in mind. Therefore, it cannot be secure. Maybe someday somebody will create an Internet 2.0 that is less insecure. But we do not have that right now. This is not an option.

      5 8Rating: -3

      RonS

      Feb 5, 2011 at 2:21pm

      Actually the headline should read "Politicians like Christy Clark and Dianne Watts promote online voting despite its dismal record. This way they can ensure they will be able to manipulate the results so they can win the election!"

      Now that headline makes sense why they support it!

      6 8Rating: -2