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On-line Voter Registration Feasibility Study – Executive Summary

 March 20, 2003

A. Background

CGI Information Systems and Management Consultants Inc. (CGI) has conducted a study on behalf of Elections Canada to examine the feasibility of developing and implementing an on-line voter registration system.

The study sought to identify the operational, legal, privacy and technical considerations associated with the development of an on-line voter registration system and to recommend short- and long-term strategies for implementing such a system.

The fact that such a feasibility study was undertaken reflects Elections Canada's commitment to make the electoral system more accessible by exploring new mechanisms to facilitate processes by which electors add, update, and/or confirm their elector information between and during electoral events. It follows up on a commitment made in the Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the 37th General Election Held on November 27, 2000 to study "the feasibility of secure on-line registration and verification" as a method of improving the quality of the National Register of Electors, the database of eligible electors maintained by Elections Canada, especially for youth.

Support for on-line registration has been growing in recent years, as evidenced by responses to Elections Canada post-event surveys conducted after the November 2000 general election. When asked to think ahead three or four years, 70 percent of electors stated that they would like to register to vote on-line, if technology allows. This support increased when respondents were reassured about security concerns. In addition, other stakeholders such as Aboriginal electors, special needs electors and the academic community, indicated strong support for on-line voter registration.

The goals of an on-line voter registration system are to:

  • provide improved service to electors through fast, timely, secure, and convenient access by enabling them to add, change, or confirm elector registration information via the Internet;
  • reduce the number of calls and labour intensive transactions that occur during an event;
  • improve the quality of data contained in the Register by registering members of difficult-to-reach groups such as youth; and
  • modernize the elector registration processes that exist between and during electoral events.

B. Scope

Previous studies commissioned by Elections Canada and others in the electoral community have differentiated the concepts of e-voting and on-line voter registration, with the former representing mechanisms to enable electors to vote electronically and the latter encompassing processes to enable electors to add, change, or confirm elector registration information via the Internet. This study focused on on-line voter registration activities and does not provide recommendations on e-voting.

Further, only on-line transactions that could be made via the Elections Canada Web site were considered. Alternate technologies such as kiosks and public enquiries were not part of the study's scope.

C. Methodology

CGI conducted in-depth interviews with internal Elections Canada stakeholders, including its Legal Services, National Register of Electors, Operations, Communications, Policy and Planning and Information Technology directorates.  

It also conducted external stakeholder interviews with key Government On-Line project authorities at Treasury Board of Canada and the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, the latter being one of the National Register of Electors' key partners.

An environmental scan was undertaken of on-line voter registration projects in all Canadian provinces, eight U.S. states, fifteen other countries, and multiple international electoral agencies and democracy-promotion organizations. Finally, the study team performed a high-level analysis of the objectives, constraints and opportunities inherent in an on-line voter registration system.

D. Research Findings

Based on this research, CGI concluded that:

  • on-line voter registration is technologically feasible;

  • the Internet presents an opportunity for Elections Canada to offer a full range of voter registration services to electors – including the ability to allow them to add, change, and confirm their elector registration information. This would improve the quality of the National Register of Electors by providing difficult-to-reach target groups such as youth with improved access to registration services. In effect, an on-line voter registration system would streamline registration processes and help electors to address constraints of time and distance.

  • the technology to ensure that Internet-based transactions are secure and efficient is available;

  • secure on-line voter registration will be predicated on the successful resolution of authentication, privacy, and authorization issues. To this end, the Government On-Line (GOL) Secure Channel initiative shows promise in offering Elections Canada a client-centric approach to secure services;

  • it is possible to implement new on-line services in such a way as to minimize information capture and workload demands on Elections Canada, particularly during electoral events; and

  • there remain legislative issues to be resolved – particularly with regard to the authentication of on-line registrants – before an on-line voter registration can be fully implemented.

E. Recommendations

CGI recommends that:

1) Elections Canada adopt an incremental approach to implementing an on-line voter registration system, beginning with limited capabilities before the next general election.

2) It be followed by an evolutionary implementation of more advanced functions over the longer term. This will enable the agency to learn from experience and it will provide the necessary time to address key challenges.

  • In the short-term, by the end of 2003, it is recommended that Elections Canada deploy an initial on-line voter registration system able to provide electors with: 

    • the ability to confirm whether they are registered to vote by querying a secure, on-line copy of the preliminary list of electors;

    • the ability to download voter registration forms from Elections Canada's Web site; and

    • access to complementary support services to answer questions such as "Where do I go to vote?".

In order to implement this initial on-line voter registration system, Elections Canada must:

    • develop an initial on-line registration user interface; and

    • enhance the current Elections Canada Web site to implement additional security to support the access, storage, and maintenance of a copy of the preliminary list of electors.

  • In the long-term, 2003–2005, CGI recommends that Elections Canada enable electors to not only confirm their elector information on-line, but also to add or change it by accessing a live and dynamic list of electors.  In order to do so, it also recommends the development of a common service delivery model whereby:

    • services, procedures, legal requirements and data requirements for all elector transactions, either between or during elections, be simplified across service delivery channels (Internet, mail, phone and in person); 

    • the mechanisms used to authenticate the identity of electors be gradually evolved to reflect best practices. While Elections Canada may first want to authenticate individuals by comparing information they have provided against its existing elector information, it should later enable pre-registration with Elections Canada for access to advanced registration services. Lastly, Elections Canada should provide electors with the capability to be authenticated via the Government On-Line authentication process;

    • Elections Canada develops a common voter registration database to be the source of data for all service delivery channels – phone, Web and in person – both during and between electoral events. This would be accomplished by further integrating field and headquarter voter registration databases and tools.

F. Benefits

The envisioned on-line voter registration system will prove beneficial to electors and Elections Canada alike. 

Elector Benefits:

  • Increased Voter Registration Convenience: electors will be able to make all desired transactions, at any time and from any Internet terminal, by accessing a single Internet site;

  • Consistent Service Delivery: across all service delivery channels, both between and during electoral events;

  • Improved Access via Partnerships: the on-line voter registration system could enable electors to register from a trusted location with access to the Internet, such as the office of a member of the House of Commons;

  • Empowering the Elector: by giving them ownership of their registration information and the opportunity for self-service; and

  • Improved Access for Youth: youth registration should be facilitated, enabling their greater engagement in the electoral process.

Elections Canada Benefits:

  • Reduction in labour intensive transactions and calls: both Elections Canada headquarters and returning offices should observe a reduction in the number of calls and registration transactions that occur during an event;

  • Enhanced Register quality: providing the ability to register or change one's information on-line will improve the registration rate for target groups, such as youth or those individuals who have moved recently;

  • Enhanced partnerships: the increased currency of elector information would make Register data more appealing to other jurisdictions;

  • Positioning for Government On-Line and On-line Voting: on-line voter registration could help Elections Canada establish a substantial Government On-Line presence and could also pave the way for eventual on-line voting mechanisms, as they involve similar legal, privacy, security and infrastructure issues.

G. Conclusion

On-line voter registration is feasible and elector interest and support for the idea are increasing. The time is right for Elections Canada to implement on-line registration in a two-phased approach, with initial confirmation services being offered by the time of the next federal general election and full-fledged registration services being made available afterwards.

On-line voter registration offers strategic benefits for electors. It would improve Elections Canada's service to electors and empower them to take an active role in the voter registration process. It would also permit the evolution of a more robust, integrated service delivery model that would offer electors convenient and consistent access to voter registration activities across all service delivery channels.

Finally, on-line voter registration would offer strategic opportunities for Elections Canada to position itself for the investigation of electronic voting, to establish a substantial Government On-Line presence, to develop mechanisms for real-time exchange of data with partners, and to enhance the quality of the National Register of Electors.