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A Comparative Assessment of Electronic Voting


In the past decade the Internet has grown exponentially. Private companies, governments, civil society groups and individual citizens all rely on the Internet for business, networking, research and a variety of other uses. Today, citizens can use the Internet to conduct their banking, make purchases and donations, sign petitions, renew and apply for government licenses and pay their taxes. The power of the Internet to transform the nature of traditional service delivery, particularly to improve communication and access to information, has raised interest in its uses to enhance the accessibility of the electoral process as well. Its ability to create new participative spaces as well as expand existing ones suggests it has the capacity to improve accessibility to voting for many electors. Furthermore, the Internet's influence on other aspects of elections and government, such as campaigning, fundraising, membership recruitment, protest, lobbying and access to information for media and citizens, signifies that it now has an increasingly important relationship with electoral politics and will likely continue to have a considerable impact on the character of democracy in nations worldwide. The newly emergent concept of electronic democracy suggests it may be useful to further explore the potential of the Internet to improve the electoral process for parties, groups, election administration, and of course, citizens. At the same time however, there remain many concerns surrounding the notion of Internet voting, primarily related to public confidence and trust in the security of the voting process. The goal of this report is to assess the considerations involved in the potential introduction of various types of electronic voting in Canadian elections.

Canada is one of the more technologically advanced countries in the world and, at the federal level, has one of the most efficient and respected election administration bodies (KPMG, 1998). Compared to other member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Canada is among those with the highest percentage of households having access to a home computer and the Internet (OECD, 2009). National election studies indicate substantial public support for the introduction of Internet voting within all age groups, particularly among younger cohorts of electors. Currently, the Canada Elections Act includes a provision authorizing research regarding alternative voting methods and the potential to study and/or test electronic voting processes (Canada Elections Act, s. 18.1). Taken together, these elements provide a foundation of support for the implementation of electronic voting pilot projects in Canadian federal elections.

This report is structured in six sections. First, it presents a discussion regarding methodology and a justification for the cases selected and examined throughout the report. Second, it offers an overview of the meaning of electronic voting and the available types of such voting as well as an inventory of their potential benefits and risks. The report primarily examines remote Internet voting, since it has been the subject of the greatest number of trials, and appears to have the greatest potential to improve accessibility for electors and impact voter turnout. The section concludes with a brief analysis of public attitudes in Canada, drawing on data from Elections Canada surveys. Public attitudes toward Internet voting are examined, particularly expressed public willingness to make use of it, as well as reported rationales for not voting.

Third and fourth, the report proceeds with critical overviews of experiences of electronic voting trials in other jurisdictions. This portion is divided into two sections. The first pays special attention to the three large municipalities within Canada that have conducted Internet voting pilot projects: Markham, Peterborough and Halifax. The second addresses cases in Europe, including Estonia, Geneva and the UK, to give an overview of the scope and dynamics of the implementation of remote Internet voting projects on larger scales (either national or sub-national). An overview of these case studies addresses the models of development used to implement electronic voting and the benefits and risks associated with them, levels of public acceptance and public confidence in government and election administration, as well as the effect, if any, on voter turnout. Technical elements such as legal implications, financial cost, security considerations and specific methods of implementation are also reviewed where information is available. An overview of each group of jurisdictions is followed by an assessment of remote Internet voting from the examples and their potential applicability in Canada. Canadian and European lessons are examined separately given that their contextual differences make direct comparison difficult.

The fifth section of the report examines two other types of electronic voting, namely telephone voting and remote kiosk voting, and their potential implementation and effectiveness for Canada. Particularly, it assesses whether one or both of these methods could be used in conjunction with remote Internet voting.

Finally, the report examines what general assessments can be made, and lessons learned, from Canadian municipal and European trials, concerning the potential for electronic voting, particularly remote Internet voting, in Canada. It reviews considerations Canada may face in exercising such an undertaking – be they technical, cultural, political, economic or social. An overview of steps that could be taken in the development of a Canadian Internet voting model is also provided. The report concludes by offering an overview of general conclusions and suggesting directions for further research, particularly interdisciplinary projects with the co-operation of election officials, researchers and IT personnel.

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