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

Summary of Consultation Practices

A comparative summary of the highlights of consultation practices used in association with Internet voting in the jurisdictions examined in this report can be found in Table 2. Overall, the consultations we have observed in the European examples outlined here have been limited in scope and confined to four arenas. First, there have been discussions at the political level in parliamentary committees, as in Estonia and Norway, or those of subnational units like the Swiss cantons. Committee recommendations to proceed with trials of Internet voting have been approved by legislatures, at times with partisan division. However, the fact that political parties have been involved invokes the second arena of consultation: the political parties. At times these party deliberations have occurred in places other than the legislature. In Estonia, the e-Governance Academy has convoked yearly meetings with the political parties to discuss e-voting operations, as well as such related aspects as a code of conduct for Internet elections, in which the parties agree, for instance, not to embed e-voting links in their campaign material on social media (Tallo, October 16, 2012). In all the European jurisdictions, some political parties have opposed Internet voting trials. There does not appear to have been a consistent ideological division on this matter. In Norway, the Conservative party opposes Internet voting, although the Conservative party officials in the trial municipalities are strongly in favour of it. In Estonia it is the Centre party that is opposed, and in Switzerland, both the Greens and the Pirate party are opposed. The two primary grounds for opposition are security concerns and secrecy doubts.

The third arena for consultations is meetings with particular groups that have been active in support of the introduction of Internet voting. Groups representing citizens abroad, of which the Swiss Abroad is the most prominent example, have been consulted. Second, groups representing persons with disabilities have been consulted about the format of the e-voting operations. Examples of revisions in the actual I-voting operations after experience with trials would suggest, however, that detailed consultations about exactly how the systems would operate were undertaken only in the sense of a post-election evaluation.

Finally, though not last temporally, have been consultations with committees of experts, who are seen as knowledgeable in actually constructing an I-voting operation. In Estonia, Norway and Switzerland, working groups of practitioners have developed plans for the implementation of I-voting. In one sense, it is quite understandable that decision makers would want to be assured that an Internet voting system was viable before entering into political discussions about its use. On the other hand, the reports of committees of experts provided a momentum for the operation that made it more difficult to question its basic premises.

For the most part, consultations in Canada have been characterized by discussions with municipal councillors and government staff. While many election stakeholders are informed or educated after key decisions have been made, they have not been brought on as part of the decision-making process, or as advisors in development prior to implementation. In general, officials seem to have been so preoccupied with conducting research and assessing elements such as system security and functionality that the thought of incorporating outside opinion from the general public into decision making has been largely missing.

The exception to this picture is the City of Edmonton undertaking, which represents the most comprehensive public consultation process to date with respect to Internet voting. The Edmonton public involvement initiative may establish some ideas regarding the incorporation of public engagement into decision making that is complementary to consultation with particular groups and elected officials. The British Columbia model may also be useful for other jurisdictions. The initial panel in BC is a small group, but it is a diverse one, and opens the process beyond the norm of practitioner "working groups" seen in many other jurisdictions. Our understanding is that the BC panel has plans to include a public commentary component prior to any final decision about an Internet voting trial.

The public consultation precedents being set in BC and Edmonton may cause other Canadian governments considering the adoption of Internet voting to engage in similar strategies to ensure public input. In fact, these approaches seem to have some municipalities already using Internet voting rethinking how they might engage relevant stakeholders between elections to gain feedback for future improvement and refinement of their online election model. This could be part of an evaluation process, or a separate task. As well, some communities that are considering Internet voting have taken note of the importance of consulting with the public. The City of Guelph, Ontario, for example, recently undertook a public survey to gauge public attitudes toward the election experience and Internet and telephone voting.

Interestingly, Canadian municipalities studying whether to implement Internet voting have conducted "evaluations" before the election, leading up to the decision to go ahead with Internet voting, exercises that we might well consider "consultations" instead. Nearly all communities in Canada that we studied have gone to great lengths to collaborate with practitioners, professionals, academics, and other municipal, provincial, and federal officials, where possible, to evaluate the practice of Internet voting and to consider whether it will work well in their area before its implementation.

The question of why more open public consultations have not taken place to match these specialized ones is difficult to answer, especially considering that some of the primary rationales for adopting the alternative voting method are public-focused, such as increases in voting turnout, improvements to accessibility, and more citizen-centred service models. The answer likely has more to do with the precedent set by long-time use of existing decision-making processes and less to do with the topic of Internet voting itself. For the most part it seems to be fairly common practice for government officials to make policy decisions based on thorough research and investigation, and perhaps even with certain stakeholder meetings, but independent of public engagement. If more jurisdictions opt for decision-making processes that are inclusive and transparent, however, citizens may expect to be included in such proceedings.

Table 2: Comparison of Consultation Methods Assessing Internet Voting in Select Jurisdictions in Europe and Canada
Jurisdiction Internet elections held (number, type) Type of consultation used Persons and groups consulted: Political sector Persons and groups consulted: Academics and experts Persons and groups consulted: Civil society groups
Estonia 2 Local

2 National

1 Extra-national
Discussions with select persons and groups Political parties

Parliamentary committee

National Electoral Committee
Academics

Technical experts
Persons with disabilities (the blind)
Switzerland 20+ referendums in test cantons (limited eligibility)

1 Federal election (limited eligibility)
Discussions with select persons and groups Federal-cantonal working group Academics

Technical experts
Organisation of the Swiss Abroad

Persons with disabilities (the blind)
Norway 1 Local Expert committee

Public hearing

Reference groups

Presentations

Parliamentary debate

Municipal visits
Policy-makers

Political parties

Elected members

Municipalities
Academics

Technical experts

Internet voting vendors
Public comment solicited on expert committee report
City of Edmonton None (but mock Jellybean Election) Citizens' Jury on Internet Voting

Roundtable advisory meetings

Public surveys

Presentations from experts

Discussions with other jurisdictions
Elected members

Other jurisdictions
Academics

Technical experts

Internet voting vendors
Persons with disabilities

Seniors

Citizens' Jury participants
City of Markham 3 Local Discussions with select persons and groups

Meetings with digital strategy company (Delvinia)

Report from Ryerson University professor
Other jurisdictions in Canada

Municipal administration

Elected members
Academics

IT experts

Internet voting vendors

Digital strategy company (Delvinia)
Halifax Regional Municipality 2 Local general elections

1 By-election
Discussions with select persons and groups

Information sessions for candidates

Meetings with security companies

Twitter

Fielding questions via phone and e-mail with the public
Other jurisdictions in Canada

Candidates

Elected members

Internal accessibility committee

Internal IT personnel

Internal legal staff
Security companies

Internet voting vendors

Technical experts
Cape Breton Regional Municipality 1 Local Discussions with select persons and groups

Information session with candidates

Meetings with other jurisdictions

Halifax Regional Municipality steering committee
Other jurisdictions in Canada (notably, Halifax and Markham)

Elected members

Nova Scotia Municipal Handbook Committee*

Candidates
IT companies and professionals

Internet voting vendors
Town of Truro 1 Local Discussions with select persons and groups

Information session for candidates

Meetings with seniors' facility staff and public library employees

Social media outreach (i.e. Facebook and Twitter pages)

Farmers' market visits
Other jurisdictions in Canada (especially Cobourg, Ontario)

Elected members

Candidates
IT companies and professionals

Internet voting vendors
Local newspaper

Seniors' facility staff

Public library employees

* The Nova Scotia Municipal Handbook Committee consists of appointed municipal returning officers. It is responsible for conducting debriefings after an election and can be used to vet proposed changes or innovations to existing policy (White, July 17, 2013).