Township considers telephone, Internet voting

Section: 
News

By Kristen Shane

 

Huron-Kinloss council is split over whether it wants to switch to telephone and Internet voting for October’s municipal election, or stick with mail-in ballots.

 

Township staff said they were impressed by a presentation to local municipal clerks and administrators on e-voting last month. So they invited Dean Smith, president of Intelivote Systems Inc. to come before council during last week’s general committee meeting to explain how it works.

 

Five days before the election period starts, each eligible voter would receive a voter instruction card in the mail, including his or her own randomly-selected eight-digit personal identification number (PIN), a 1-800 telephone number to call for help, and information on the candidates in the area.

 

The voting period would likely last a week, from Oct. 18 to 25 (election ‘day’ is set for Oct. 25).

 

On the Internet, a voter would go to the website named on his or her instruction card, read a preamble and declare themselves an eligible voter. Then, he or she would type in his or her PIN, and a security code seen on the screen. He or she would vote by selecting a box beside a candidate’s name.

 

“If they try to select another box, a pop-up comes up and says: ‘This is a one-select race,’” Smith explained.

 

A final screen shows the voter the name of the person he or she has chosen, to ensure it’s the right one.

Telephone voting works much the same way. Each candidate’s name corresponds with a button or buttons on the voter’s dial pad.

 

In the past two municipal elections, the township has used a vote by mail system, in which each voter must sign and seal a declaration form in one envelope and his or her ballot in another.

 

It’s more labour intensive. Clerk Sonya Watson said processors had to retrieve mail-in ballots every day for two weeks.

 

“It’s also highly, highly prone to spoiled ballots,” said Smith.

 

In some areas, as many as 19 per cent of ballots don’t count because voters fill them out incorrectly, he said.

 

The problem wasn’t as bad in Huron-Kinloss during the last election, in 2006, said Watson, because the township changed its procedures to accommodate common problems.

 

In any case, said Smith, “(E-voting) allows you to virtually do away with spoiled ballots.”

 

The only way someone can spoil his or hers is to not select any candidate.

 

Intelivote Systems Inc. president Dean Smith. (Kristen Shane photo)

 

E-voting also re-enfranchises non-resident voters such as students away at school, snowbirds, cottagers who winter in the city and travellers away on business, said Smith.

 

“The single most (important) factor that impacts voting is convenience,” said Smith. “More and more people are too busy to vote.”

 

Most municipalities that have switched to e-voting, since Intelivote started marketing it in 2003, have seen voter turnout rise by between five and 100 per cent, he said.

 

Huron-Kinloss’s turnout has hovered between 35 and 52 per cent in the last three elections.

It has a large seasonal population that could not be reached through only in-person polling stations, said Watson.

 

With e-voting, said Smith, “It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, if you’re an eligible voter in Huron-Kinloss, you can vote.”

 

In the Nova Scotia-based company’s first dealing in Ontario, during the 2006 municipal elections, he said people voted from 38 American states and as far away as Afghanistan.

 

This time around, 30 municipalities have signed up for e-voting. In this area, Brockton and South Bruce are considering it.

 

Intelivote charges municipalities $3 per eligible voter to mail out the personalized voter cards, maintain the voter list and support elections staff, among other duties. It works out to $37,800, which is $1,200 cheaper than what municipal staff had estimated vote by mail would cost.

 

New provincial accessibility legislation mandates that municipalities make polling stations accessible to voters with disabilities.

 

The e-voting website is compatible with screen readers and other technologies used by people with disabilities. Shut-ins who can’t travel to a polling station, or even the mailbox, can do e-voting, said Smith.

 

“There are some elderly shut-ins (who) I think would find the telephone voting complicated if they didn’t have someone to come guide them through it,” said councillor Anne Eadie. “Putting an X is pretty easy.”

 

“My concern is my next door neighbour at home (has) no phone, no Internet, not even a computer,” said councillor Don Murray.

 

“In that situation, you’d just have to have them over to use your phone, or if they drive, they would have to come to the (municipal) office,” said township administrator Mary Rose Walden.

 

The municipal office could be equipped with a laptop or two, phone and touch-screen version of the voting website for in-person voters, she said. No paper ballots would be used. Municipal staff could also travel with a laptop to local seniors’ homes to help residents vote.

 

“What about hackers?” asked Eadie.

 

Smith said when his company was involved in 2007 United Kingdom municipal elections, an organized group against e-voting vowed to disrupt the technology, but it didn’t.

 

“We’d be on the front page of the paper for all the wrong reasons if it didn’t work for the last five years,” he said.

 

No matter how secure the website is, it’s hard to fight against fraud, Watson later acknowledged.

 

She can’t be in the homes of electors, making sure that the person who received the voter card is the person voting online or by phone.

 

 “It’s no different than vote by mail,” said Watson. “All we can really say to that is it’s against the law.”

You can be heavily fined for stealing someone’s voter information card from their mail, she said.

 

“I’d like a little bit more time to think about it,” said Eadie, after hearing the hour-long presentation. A couple other council members also weren’t sold on the idea. Nevertheless, council asked township staff to draw up the proposed bylaws needed to put in place e-voting for its May 17 council meeting. Council must, by law, decide on the township’s voting method by June 1.


While this sounds like a

While this sounds like a great idea, I could see many issues arising. I'd like to open up a discussion concerning this voting system. What's everyone's opinion on it? =)