Township debates electronic voting system
By Liz Dadson
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Huron-Kinloss council is interested in the concept of electronic voting but is unsure if that is the way to go for the municipal election in October.
Dean Smith, president and founder of Intelivote Systems Inc. of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, was at council's general committee meeting last night (May 3), outlining the E-voting option.
His company, formed in 2003, has been conducting electronic voting across Canada and internationally. It is a world leader in "anywhere" voting solutions, and the leading provider of those solutions.
The proposal is to use the telephone and the Internet, rather than typical polling stations or mail-in ballots, for people to vote in the next municipal election. It allows eligible voters to cast their ballots from any place - home, car, work or wherever the day might lead them.
The election is run throughout the week, up to and including election day (Oct. 25), with voters entering an "electronic polling station" which is open 24 hours per day, seven days per week, using a secure Personal Identification Number (PIN). The voter can access the system and start voting, cast his ballot for one race (for example, the mayor), exit the system if he wishes and return to it at a later date with the PIN to complete the other races in the election.
Smith said South Bruce and Brockton are already planning to use this system, Elections Canada is considering it for the next election, and the Province of Ontario is also interested.
"It gives voters a choice," he said. "Most municipalities (including Huron-Kinloss) have been using the mail-in ballot in order to increase voter participation. However, that system is labour-intensive and highly prone to spoiled ballots."
Meanwhile, he said, electronic voting has done away with spoiled ballots, unless the voter is intent on ruining his ballot as a means of protest. It has also increased voter participation by huge margins.
"It shouldn't matter where you are in the world, if you are an eligible voter in Huron-Kinloss, you should be able to vote," he said.
The system works by way of voter information letters sent out to every eligible voter - these include the PINs and instructions on how to cast their ballots. The letters are sent out five days before the start of the voting which is a full week before election day. For example, voting would start Oct. 18 and run up to and include Oct. 25 this year.
Voters can call from anywhere or connect to the Internet to vote. They go to the site and get the basic information about who is eligible to vote (this is the same as the declaration they sign in the mail-out voting). They have to complete a spam-fighting mechanism and then enter their PIN. An information page comes up, describing the race for councillor or whatever position is on the ballot. Then the actual ballot comes up and the voter clicks on the boxes of his chosen candidates, similar to marking a ballot on paper.
"They can't over-vote it because the system does not allow it," said Smith, "so there are no spoiled ballots."
A fail-safe page comes up asking the voter to check his ballot and then submit it which is similar to dropping it into the ballot box. A confirmation page then comes up, saying the vote has been submitted.
Smith said some people will check the candidate's website and platform while they are getting ready to vote - all on the Internet.
An E-voting poll station would also be set up in the municipal office for residents who do not feel comfortable voting on their own through the telephone or Internet. The station would be open during the week before and on election day, including the Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
A computer with a touchscreen and telephone would also be set up to allow for assisted voting. A voter could have a "friend" take the appropriate oath and help the voter fill out the ballot by phone or Internet. In the absence of a "friend", the voter could request the help of an election official.
"It's all about ease and convenience for voters," said Smith.
In their report, clerk Sonya Watson and administrator Mary Rose Walden state that E-voting will address concerns about accessibility, and reach out-of-area voters - snowbirds, students away attending school, and business travellers. "We are also able to bring the election to area nursing homes with the ease of a laptop or telephone and have a sworn election official assist in the voting process if necessary. We feel the E-voting option should also appeal to the 18- to 25-year-old age group who have had low participation rates in elections across the country."
Watson said the electronic system offers a cost savings of about $1,000. "The majority of the costs are incurred before nomination day, setting up the ballot, etc., with the vote by mail method, while in the case of telephone/Internet voting, much of the work takes place with Intelivote after nomination day and therefore the cost of a 'non-election' would be greatly reduced."
Dean Smith talks to council
She urged council to make a decision because the bylaw authorizing an alternative voting method and the policies and procedures for that method must be in place by June 1.
Councillor Lillian Abbott said the township has a large Mennonite population that cannot access this technology.
"They can go to a phone booth to vote or use the Internet at the library," said Walden.
Councillor Anne Eadie said her concern is for the elderly and shut-ins who are able to vote by mail but may not be able to use the electronic system.
"Older voters are the most faithful voters," said Smith. "The mail-in vote is easy and straightforward; however, the electronic system reaches a segment of the population that wants it done even easier. We've had instances in Nova Scotia where we used electronic voting, and the voter participation increased to 71 per cent from 36 per cent.
Watson said the township's voter turn-out was 37 per cent before the mail-in vote. It then went to 51 per cent and 48 per cent in the subsequent two elections.
"When we asked voters, they said they would do the electronic voting and they would educate themselves about the candidates as well," said Smith.
He said the average cost of E-voting is $4-$6/eligible voter. The Intelivote service fee is $3/voter. That includes legislation assistance, policy and procedures documents, election list management, election implementation, guide and training, and election support. The clerk's office puts the voters list together, same as any election.
There are provisions if a PIN is lost or an eligible voter is not on the list, said Smith. "The electronic system is great for candidates because they can campaign right up to the week before the election. With the mail-in vote, they could be knocking on doors where the people already voted."
Another advantage, he said, is the results are tabulated in about 15 minutes after the auditor checks the system. Privacy is guaranteed through a patented process that has highly-regarded capability, he said.
Later in the meeting, council discussed whether to move forward with the electronic voting.
Watson said the cost of a mail-in vote is $39,000, while the electronic system is $37,800. That could increase depending on the number of ballots cast, she said.
"I need time to think about this," said Eadie.
Watson said mayor Mitch Twolan (who was absent for the meeting) told her that the electronic vote was used by the real estate association and it was very easy.
"I'd kind of like to see how it goes for South Bruce and Brockton," said Eadie. "The mail-in vote is so simple for our seniors."
Council agreed to have staff bring a bylaw forward for electronic voting at the council meeting May 17 and a decision will be made then.
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Tuesday, May 04, 2010