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Meeting Summary – Annual General Meeting – June 20 and 21, 2016

Voting Services Modernization

Jacques Mailloux, Executive Director, ESM, presented Elections Canada's VSM initiative to ACPP members. He provided project background, overview, rationale and considerations to help members understand the relevancy of the proposed modernization and the approach chosen by the agency.

Scope of work

The scope of VSM is fivefold:

  1. To identify, elaborate on, select and implement transformation opportunities across all aspects of the voting processes, so that they are increasingly accessible, convenient and effectively delivered to voters.
  2. To improve existing processes.
  3. To introduce new processes.
  4. To consider introducing technology to meet changing expectations of Canadians.
  5. To research and analyze possible impact of potential electoral reform on voting processes and services.

This work will be carried out in three distinct work streams:

  1. The in-person voting experience at advance and ordinary polls, including mobile polls.
  2. The voting experience under Special Voting Rules (SVR). 
  3. Future voting technologies.

Stream 1: The in-person voting experience

VSM applied to the in-person voting experience will revolve around one central objective: to design and develop new advance and ordinary polling place business processes that will integrate electronic voters lists, replace paper-based controls and allow for efficient and effective use of human resources.

Depending on the feasibility and value propositions that are still under assessment, Stream 1 may include the following components:

Stream 2: The voting experience under Special Voting Rules

VSM applied to the voting experience under SVR will revolve around three objectives:

  1. To design and implement an "enhanced vote-by-mail" service to better serve electors who will be away from their riding on advance polling and election days by leveraging online services to minimize delays in receiving special ballots.
  2. To enhance the SVR process for voting in Elections Canada offices.
  3. To increase Elections Canada's ability to support the SVR voting channel.

Stream 3: Future voting technologies

VSM will also focus on researching the options for and feasibility of future voting technologies, including:

Rationale and approach

Mr. Mailloux noted that, by virtually all accounts, the 42nd GE was successfully administered. In the spirit of continual improvement and innovation, Elections Canada will seek opportunities to improve service to Canadian electors, candidates and election workers. He noted that the option of adding more workers to solve process issues is no longer sustainable.

The agency will seek to reduce administrative process barriers within its control to mitigate the impacts of known barriers.

To do so, the agency is proposing a three-tier approach:

  1. Continue to refine and improve voting processes, including plans for introducing technology at the polls.
  2. Identify and recommend to Parliament legislative changes to the CEA that eliminate or modify provisions that are barriers to providing better service to Canadians in 43rd GE and 44th GE.
  3. Adjust to the outcomes of the CEO's recommendations report to Parliament and electoral reform.

Conclusion

When moving forward with VSM and implementing changes, the agency must align its activities with its core values of transparency, trust and integrity. The agency must also take into account the multiple perspectives and experiences of all process stakeholders, which include electors, ROs, election workers, candidates and Elections Canada Headquarters staff.

A fundamental challenge to VSM is consistency of service offerings and levels across the country, given Canada's geography and the digital and technological disparities. Timing might also present a challenge to implementation, depending on how much time is left to get ready once decisions on the CEO's recommendations report to Parliament and electoral reform are known.

In terms of process re-engineering, considerations should be given to specific requirements related to the CEA. For instance, the CEO will need latitude to redefine roles and responsibilities of electoral workers, as well as to introduce leaner business processes and enable technologies. Some trade-offs may be needed as well, such as the accessibility and convenience of a "Vote Anywhere" model versus the cost of tabulators to preserve the ability to provide poll-by-poll results.

Round table discussion

A member asked if there are any legal restrictions to announcing poll results before the vote is finished in other parts of the country. Stéphane Perrault, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Regulatory Affairs (DCEO RA), answered that legal restrictions on results have been removed from the CEA and that the divulgation of results in real-time is inevitable in today's world.

Some members expressed their concerns about security aspects of online services and wanted to know if Elections Canada had reached out to third parties such as security firms. Mr. Mailloux assured members that the agency is researching and keeping up-to-date with current developments, as they need to be experts in that area. Michel Roussel, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Electoral Events (DCEO EE), specified that Elections Canada does not intend to recommend internet voting at the moment, but bring in technology at the polls, such as electronic lists. A member asked if the agency was planning to leverage by-elections to pilot some new technologies. Mr. Roussel let members know that, while Elections Canada is planning to do so as soon as there is something concrete to test, it is not in the plan to pilot anything in the upcoming by-elections.

There were some questions around timeframe and whether it will possible to implement VSM for the next general elections in 2019. Mr. Mailloux informed members that Stream 1 (in-person voting experience) is expected to be ready for 2019. However, the agency will need to adapt depending on the outcomes of the electoral reform and the CEO's recommendations.

A member commented that anonymous online voting is already available, but they believe Canadians might not care about anonymous voting if they could see in the tally that their vote is counted, with a bar code, for example. The Executive Director, ESM, explained that the agency would need to assess any technology before proceeding with such changes, to ensure that the system would be secure and reliable. The priority is to maintain integrity of the process. Canadians should have complete trust and faith in the results.

Some members expressed their concerns about losing poll-by-poll results, if a "vote at any table in the polling place" or a "vote anywhere" model were implemented Mr. Mailloux said that, in the case of a more complex ballot than what we currently have, only electronic tabulators would resolve this issue. However, with our current simple ballot, a re-designed manual counting process can be developed to sort and tally votes by candidate and polling division in a single pass.

Overall, members supported VSM, the integration of technology and improving voters' experience. Members expressed their interest in knowing more about future opportunities for their participation and engagement, such as consultation activities and pilot projects. Mr. Mailloux let members know that the agency is currently working on an engagement plan, which might include technical working groups and technical briefing sessions.