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Independent panel’s study suggests idea for online voting be pulled offline

A year-long study by the Independent Panel on Internet Voting has concluded the province of British Columbia and its municipalities are ready for online voting.

The panel was formed in August 2012 by the chief electoral officer at the behest of the B.C. attorney general and met 13 times between September 2012 and October 2013 to examine pros and cons of Internet-based voting.

The panel’s findings, released in a report earlier this month, said potential benefits of online voting include providing greater accessibility and convenience for B.C. voters, especially for people with disabilities, and the possibility of improving voter turnout, but the report also mentioned inherent security risks in spite of the fact that Internet transactions for banking, shopping, and government services are widespread and growing. The report also cited concerns over security at the voter’s device, such as a computer or smart phone, reduced transparency and ability to audit compared to traditional voting methods.

The panel recommended not implementing universal online voting for provincial or local elections just yet, but if it is implemented it should  be limited to voters who have specific accessibility challenges.

Guillermo Ferrero, Nanaimo’s director of information technology and legislative services, is frustrated with the findings.

“It’s a very unfortunate outcome in my opinion,” Ferrero said. “Nanaimo has been trying to push Internet voting for quite sometime already. I’m not saying that the current council would support it, but that would be a choice I would put in front of them as a possibility.”

Ferrero said Internet-savvy people in their 30s are getting to the age where they want to buy houses, have a stake in their community and are concerned about taxes, municipal and provincial issues about how political decisions are affecting their lives.

“Ten years from now they’re going to be laugh at us and say, “How can you not have Internet voting?’” Ferrero said.

He said people already send all their private information, including social insurance numbers and earnings figures, over the Internet just by doing their income taxes.

“You give them all that information that could be hacked by anyone, but there are security and things in place to not eliminate the risk of hacking, but at least control it to an acceptable level,” Ferrero said.

He agrees there is nothing that can be done to make Internet security 100 per cent bulletproof, but he noted traditional voting methods aren’t foolproof either. Faced with low voter turnouts, changing demographics and waning interest in the electoral process there is a growing risk of abdicating society’s democratic choices to small, but politically active minorities.

“What are you going to do?” Ferrero asked. “Go down to five per cent voter turnout and then officials will run our city decided by a few minority? Something has to give.”

More than a dozen countries around the world, including Canada, the United States, Norway, the Netherlands and others have used or experimented with electronic voting systems – either remote Internet voting or voting from poll stations – with varying levels of success.

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