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Consultation and Evaluation Practices in the Implementation of Internet Voting in Canada and Europe

Executive Summary

The use of Internet voting as an alternative method of voting in elections is increasing. To date the most frequent use of Internet ballots in binding elections has occurred in a number of European countries and in Canadian municipalities. The primary rationales for its introduction in these jurisdictions have included the possibility of positively impacting voter turnout, enhancing accessibility and convenience for electors, increasing citizen-centred service, stimulating greater youth involvement in elections, and taking the lead in e-government, whether in the local region, nationally, or internationally.

This report examines consultation and evaluation practices associated with the consideration or adoption of Internet voting systems in Canada and Europe. Our findings indicate that consultation efforts are modest and often take place after the decision to proceed with Internet voting has been made. In Europe, consultations have been relatively limited in scope, often occurring with specific groups, including parliamentary or government committees, political parties, specific groups that seek Internet voting for reasons of accessibility, and committees of experts. In Canada, consultation regarding Internet voting has been concentrated in discussions between government officials and city councillors. Efforts to connect with the public typically occur after an Internet voting program has been decided upon and focus mostly on informing citizens about available voting options. In some cases this is combined with outreach communication that seeks to impart the importance of electoral participation. Recent consultation efforts in the City of Edmonton and Province of British Columbia, however, are setting new standards in Canada about what consultation surrounding Internet voting might entail.

In both Europe and Canada, Internet voting is evaluated as part of overall voting operations. However, specific evaluations of Internet voting are slightly more refined in Europe given the presence of international agencies that participate in this component of electoral administration. The involvement of outside agencies results in the use of well-defined evaluation criteria. In cases where additional evaluations are commissioned, sets of evaluation criteria may be further expanded. Evaluation of Internet voting in Canada, by contrast, is not as well-established, and overall criteria have yet to be developed that would allow comparison between jurisdictions. Resource constraints, differential contextual factors, and undecided responsibility for evaluation all contribute to this variation. Some Canadian communities are now working toward establishing distinct evaluation criteria.

The report concludes with a set of recommendations relating to desirable principles for widespread public consultation when Internet voting is being considered, and for evaluation criteria to be employed when trials are held. It specifically recommends that Elections Canada take a leadership role in assembling and transmitting knowledge about Internet voting.