The B.C. Liberal and New Democratic parties have two things in common when it comes to their respective leadership races.
One, they hired the same Nova Scotia–based electronic-voting-system company to conduct the online and phone-in voting by their members.
Two, they had the option of asking Intelivote Systems to require voters to produce not only the unique personal identification number assigned to them, but also a secondary credential—a birthdate, for example—to minimize the risk of fraud. But neither party did. This has done nothing to allay former B.C. Liberal leader and ex-NDP cabinet minister Gordon Wilson’s fear that the adoption of online and telephone voting is an invitation to fraud.
“The problem with that is that you have no way of verifying if the individual who’s phoning in or typing in the PIN number is in fact the individual to whom the PIN number was assigned,” Wilson told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
Wilson noted that the system is completely automated. There will be no one at the other end of the telephone line or Internet connection to confirm the identity of the individual making a vote.
“If you go out and you get say 5,000 or 6,000 people to authorize you to sign them up, you can sign them up for the party, you can raise money independently to pay for their memberships, they’ll all be assigned a PIN number which they will all hand to you, so you’ve got now 5,000 PIN numbers,” he explained. “You go to a call centre or to a law firm or to a real-estate office or anywhere where they’ve got a large number of phone banks, a large number of computer hookups. You assign these numbers to individuals”¦who are sitting in front of their computers. As soon as the poll opens, these [people]”¦will just routinely punch in these numbers.”
B.C. Liberals and New Democrats have boasted about the thousands of new members who have signed up during the two leadership races.
But there have been controversies along the way. A cat kept by a supporter of B.C. Liberal leadership candidate Christy Clark became a card-carrying member. Kamloops hockey players were signed up without their knowledge by the campaign of Liberal contender Kevin Falcon.
On the NDP side, questions were raised about the membership sign-ups, particularly in the South Asian community, by Adrian Dix’s team. Vancouver-Kensington MLA Mable Elmore, who is expected to endorse Dix on Sunday (February 20), also caused a flap with her sign-ups.
For Wilson, there is no substitute for a voter showing up at a physical polling station to receive a ballot after identity verification. “I mean in an electoral process, you can’t walk into a polling booth and cast a vote for six people,” he said. “You have one vote. That’s it. That’s all you’re allowed to cast.”
In a phone interview from Halifax, the president and founder of Intelivote indicated that clients often require a secondary credential in addition to PINs for online and telephone voting purposes. According to Intelivote’s Dean Smith, the B.C. Liberal Party and NDP both chose to use PINs only.
“Their goal is to make sure that as many people vote as can do,” Smith told the Straight.
Smith said that Intelivote has “certain forensic capabilities in our system to determine if large quantities of PINs are being voted from the same [telephone] number or same IP [Internet Protocol] address”.
However, observing that this is taking place doesn’t necessarily mean that fraud is occurring, according to Smith. He explained that, for example, voters in a given locality may choose to have a mini convention at one place, and use either the same phone or computer to cast their votes. A similar situation might arise for workers in the same office. The same phone number or IP address will also show up when voters in big families cast their ballots.
Smith said that it’s up to the parties to ensure that the campaign teams of leadership candidates will not engage in the mass collection of PINs.
“We can’t prevent people from performing illegal acts simply by running our system,” Smith said.
Lilian Kim is the director of communications and media relations for the B.C. Liberal Party. In a phone interview, Kim said that the party does “recognize that there are some concerns” about PINs being rounded up for its February 26 leadership vote.
“We do keep that in mind but at the end of the day, we are confident of the security measures that we have in place,” Kim told the Straight.
NDP provincial secretary Jan O’Brien didn’t return the Straight’s call by deadline. The NDP will hold its leadership vote on April 17.