Vancouver city council approves online voting in November civic election advance polls

City council approved a proposal today (May 3) that could see Vancouver become the first municipality in the province to allow online voting as part of a civic election.

A staff report recommending the city approve in principle an online voting pilot during advance polls in the November 2011 municipal election was supported by 10 out of 11 council members.

The pilot project requires the approval of the B.C. Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development.

The staff report was the result of a motion introduced by Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer in January that directed staff to look into the feasibility of incorporating online voting into the fall election.

Reimer said the federal election this week was an example of the need to improve voter turnout.

“Huge numbers of people, hundreds of thousands of new, politically active people online...translated into a marginal, marginal voter increase,” she said. “When you look at people engaged in the political process, it’s fine to ask them how to come to us, but we also need to figure out how to come to them.”

“There are risks to online voting, but there are also huge risks to having so few people participating in the political process, and particularly the act of voting, and Vancouver came down so low in voter turnout, I think it’s incumbent on us to figure out how to deal with it," she added.

Janice MacKenzie, the chief election officer for the City of Vancouver, said B.C. has the highest per capita use of the Internet in the country.

She told council the benefits of online voting include increased accessibility for people who find it difficult to visit a traditional voting station, increased convenience, and an increase in voter turnout.

She noted the model is “not without risk”. Potential risks include the possibility of personal identification numbers being stolen or mailed to the wrong person, and hacks or viruses impacting election results.

NPA councillor Suzanne Anton was the only councillor who opposed the pilot project. She argued the city should send the proposal back to staff for public consultation on the potential hazards of online voting.

Anton told the Straight while she believes the change would be welcome, she’s concerned about the potential security risks of an online voting system.

“I am very worried about three possibilities,” said told the Straight.

“One is the possibility of hacking into the system and changing the results, the second is the possibility of hacking into the system and displaying who voted for who, and the third is the coercion issue. Many households will have more than one voter in them, and you don’t know if one person will just vote all the votes, or if one will coerce the other. I’d like to know more about that.”

MacKenzie told council some of the risks identified with online voting have been associated with a one-step process whereby PIN numbers are sent to eligible voters. She said there are also two-step verification processes that involve two separate PIN numbers and a security question.

Over 40 municipalities in Ontario have incorporated online voting into their general elections, including Markham, which has used Internet voting during an advance poll in three consecutive elections.

MacKenzie said there has been an increased voter turnout in that municipality, from 30 to 38 percent between 2003 and 2010.

Mayor Gregor Robertson called the pilot “a step in the right direction”.

“Given the results that staff have presented to us from other cities across the country, I think there’s a strong case that this will enhance democracy in Vancouver and hopefully increase the voter turnout,” he said.



Kim Collins

May 4, 2011 at 11:49am

Provided the city can provide secure online voting this is great idea for advancing local democracy and political participation! Thank you!

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Fan'o Truth

May 5, 2011 at 11:39am

It's a telling commentary on just how peverted the sense of priorities can become in an urban political environment that's totally driven by fashion and style considerations, that City Council will seriously recommend a proposal that they know is wide open to voter fraud.

What will the going price be for a voter's PIN number among the poor, the addicted, or for that matter those who are working but who have no intention of voting and would like a half dozen free lattes?

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May 6, 2011 at 7:07am

No paper trail = No scrutiny or recounts. This is a recipe for fraud.

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William J. Kelleher, Ph.D.

May 6, 2011 at 12:49pm

Ms. Anton can relax. There are no known instances of a hacker getting into an Internet voting system and changing the results. In Washington, DC, a hacker hacked that system, but it was not open for official voting, only a trial. (For the whole story, see )

Secondly, in a professionally constructed system, voter authentication is done by one module, and a second module takes and records the vote. The two modules are so separate that even if a court ordered it, no connection could be made between voter and vote. Its not like e-commerce, where name and transaction are kept together.

RE coercion: in the USA many states have vote by mail systems. Millions of people vote at home, or during their coffee break at work, or during the sermon in church. There have been no convictions for coercion in vote by mail states. (See Hall and Alvarez, Election Fraud)

Ms. Anton should stop listening to Fair Vote’s scary stories, and just look at the facts of experience.

William J. Kelleher, Ph.D.
Twitter: wjkno1

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May 13, 2011 at 12:29am

As long as business or the government have access to the servers and data no "online" voting is safe from manipulation and fraud. This type of system should be run by civilians, for civilians, in a secure, protected, self contained facility.

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May 29, 2011 at 10:06am

"If you think technology can solve our voting problems, then you don't understand the problems and you don't understand the technology." - unnamed observer of electronic voting

There have been numerous examples of 'interference' on the Internet lately (Sony PS, to name but a few) If the U.S. election system is anything like ours, it is complaint driven with the onus on the complainant and you would have to know what you were looking for and have access to the equipment. We already are exposed to easily-hackable electronic voting machines in 55 municipalities that are generally poorly understood by those responsible for implementing them. Strangely enough, they are predominantly used in small communities with actual voters in the few thousands - hardly a 'need for speed'!

There is still a dearth of data that could even prove that the 'convenience' of internet voting actually improves valid voter turnout and, if so, by how much, i.e., how much risk are we taking on in exchange for how many extra actual, real votes?
There is also the whole issue of exactly how 'easy' it should be to perform one of the most important actions that citizens in a democracy are to undertake.

For much more on this, have a look at my BCVotingMachines Blog at

"Ensuring the reliability, security, and verifiability of public elections is fundamental to a stable democracy. Convenience and speed of vote counting are no substitute for accuracy of results and trust in the process by the electorate" - Assn. for Computing Machinery

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