The B.C. government has rejected a proposal to allow online voting in Vancouver’s municipal election this fall.
In a letter to Ida Chong, the minister of community, sport and cultural development, acting chief electoral officer Craig James identified “a number of serious risks” that he said cannot be addressed by Internet voting technologies that are currently available.
Among those concerns outlined in the letter include vulnerability to attacks from hackers, authentication of voter identity while protecting the anonymity of the vote, and the risk of voter coercion.
James strongly cautioned against the use of an Internet voting option until the risks have been addressed.
Vancouver city council approved in principle an online voting project in advance polls for the November 2011 civic election on May 3.
In a letter to Mayor Gregor Robertson, Chong said while the province is supportive of the concept of Internet voting, that “significant legislative change” would be required to establish Internet voting in local government elections.
According to the minister, the Vancouver Charter does not allow for the extensive change to legislated election rules that would be required to establish an Internet voting bylaw.
“I have no clear authority to approve such a bylaw and such action could create the basis for a challenge to the elections process or results,” she wrote.
Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer, who introduced the original motion proposing online voting in January, said she’s disappointed the pilot project can’t go ahead for 2011. However, she said the ministry has indicated they are committed to working with the city to see the changes enacted in time for civic elections in 2014.
"To me that’s a very positive step forward," she told the Straight by phone. "Three years is not the end of the world to see such a big move forward in online voting."
Reimer noted that online voting has successfully been used in over 40 municipalities, including cities like Halifax and Markham, Ontario.
“The more I’ve learned about the experiences of jurisdictions that have used online voting, the more confident I am with it,” she said.
Non-Partisan Association councillor Suzanne Anton, who was the only city councillor to vote against the online voting pilot project, issued a statement today (May 27) supporting the B.C. government’s decision.
"The discussions I've had with experts confirm that internet voting at the moment is bad policy for two key reasons," she said.
"When an internet vote is cast, you don't know what happens to that vote, and you don't know who is pushing the button. That kind of uncertainty undermines citizens' faith in the democratic process.”
Elections B.C. is currently developing a discussion paper on the benefits and risks of online voting. According to James, the paper will set the context for putting forward a position on the potential for Internet voting in provincial elections.
You can follow Yolande Cole on Twitter at twitter.com/yolandecole.