COLUMN: Online voting won’t solve problems

Lowering voting age will make more young people interested in elections.

Last November, I was one of the 27 per cent of eligible Nanaimo residents to cast a ballot during the municipal elections.

The polling station was at the neighbourhood elementary school a few blocks away. My husband and I combined the activity with a dog walk, there was no lineup and we were in and out in minutes.

I’ve always felt that voting is both a privilege and a duty. I voted for the first time when I was 18 and was excited about the opportunity to finally be able to participate in the democratic process.

Judging by the turnout for recent elections, a good portion of the population does not feel the same way.

Last fall, Chief Electoral Officer Keith Archer tabled a report recommending that the office be given the flexibility to trial new voting technologies.

And now the province has asked the chief electoral officer appoint an independent panel to examine the potential for using Internet voting in B.C.

This panel is charged with reviewing best practices for Internet voting from other jurisdictions and identifying possible technological or logistical barriers. The press release talks about modernizing B.C.’s electoral process and increasing voter turnout.

I think there are too many issues with online voting.

When you show up at a polling station, someone is there to verify you are who you say you are and that you are only voting once.

With online voting, what would be required – a pin number and a password? Who is making sure one household member is not voting on behalf of his or her entire family?

On top of that, surely there must be security issues. What if the computer program is hacked and voting results changed? Online voting means no paper record to verify the results.

I know the idea is to boost participation by making voting easy, but the process is already fairly easy – you walk/drive/take the bus to the nearest polling station, show your ID and go on your merry way.

Online voting might make the process more convenient for many, but I wonder if the people using this method instead of taking the extra 10 or 20 minutes to vote in person may also be the kind of people not bothering to take the time to read up on candidates and make an informed decision.

If you can’t spare 10 minutes to go vote, then you probably aren’t going to take the time to look at candidates’ websites or e-mail them questions, etc.

I think the solution is getting people interested at a younger age, something else mentioned in the chief electoral officer’s report.

The report states that the lowest voter registration rates are for young people aged 18-24 years old.

Archer’s suggestion is to follow Australia’s example and allow provisional registration before youth turn 18 – keeping the legal voting age at 18, but allowing a youth to register to vote at age 16 or 17.

Provisional registration would become active registration on their 18th birthday.

Archer notes that many teachers have expressed support for this concept as it would allow meaningful action by their students in the context of civics education.

My vote would be for simply lowering the legal voting age.

I spoke with Abbotsford West MLA Mike de Jong a couple years ago about this issue when he hoped to become the next premier.

His suggestion was to lower the voting age in B.C. from 18 to 16, which he argued would afford more opportunities to teach about the importance of voting.

By age 16, youth are old enough to research candidates and form their own opinions.

With the help of some lessons from teachers on the importance of voting, it could instill in youth a lifelong appreciation for this civic duty, thus influencing coming generations of adults.

And if teens start voting, they might guilt trip their parents into doing the same.