A Comparative Assessment of Electronic Voting
This study indicates that no one specific model of remote or Internet voting used elsewhere is directly transferable to a Canadian context. Selectively adopting features tested in other jurisdictions will best help to assure maintenance of the integrity of the Canadian electoral system. In terms of what will work in Canada, there is a particular need for more research and pilot projects related to remote Internet voting. And while theoretical research is useful, only practical experience and trials can determine the particular impact Internet voting would have on Canadian electoral democracy.
Interdisciplinary research may be able to provide further guidance on which variants of the available models would be best suited to the Canadian context. In particular, it would be useful to collect additional attitudinal data that probe electors' reported level of comfort and trust with Internet technology and specific types of Internet voting. It would also be useful to gauge how likely Canadian electors would be to make use of telephone voting. In addition, it would be important to investigate regional and other socio-demographic features of the likely use of electronic voting methods.
It would also be useful for the Canadian electoral agencies to develop a number of principles or benchmarks that Canadians would expect an electronic voting system to live up to. This could include and expand upon their operational values and principles, such as maintaining the integrity of the electoral system, increasing accessibility and convenience for electors, the potential to increase electoral participation, being innovative while maintaining traditional customs and conventions, improving the speed of tabulation and the reporting of election results, maintaining or enhancing the inclusiveness of the electoral process, responding to technological and attitudinal changes in society, preserving or increasing system transparency, continuing to earn and maintain public trust, and ensuring cost effectiveness. Additional research on the type of software, security protocols, and risk assessment methods would be beneficial as well.
Practical testing and pilot projects are the only ways of knowing what will work and what will not. Trials of particular methods will give the best insight into understanding what requirements must be met for Internet voting to work well in Canada as well as the actual pros and cons of electronic approaches. A by-election is perhaps a useful starting point, but a more expansive trial would be necessary prior to the introduction of Internet voting nationally. A regionally concentrated trial, or a group of selected constituencies that are regionally representative, would be a useful approach to testing. Only after such testing would it be feasible to offer remote Internet voting as an option for all Canadian electors, as a complement to the traditional process.
Careful examination of the literature on Internet voting as well as the pilot experiences of many jurisdictions suggests that both the extremely optimistic and pessimistic positions about the effects of Internet voting are overstated. Internet voting will not act as a panacea for the social causes responsible for electoral disengagement, nor will it remedy negative attitudes toward political entities. It will, however, increase voting opportunities for electors and make casting a vote more accessible. On the other side, Internet voting will not erode democracy or result in vote buying and election fraud any more than does the existing system. The Internet will undoubtedly change the political landscape in Canada with or without the introduction of Internet voting, since it already is impacting electoral campaigns and overall election administration. While there are valid concerns that should be considered and thought out in the development of a given model, the successful operation of Internet voting in other jurisdictions shows that it can be implemented and, in fact, improve the electoral process for electors and election administrators.