Some people use the Internet for communication, others for information, and now, it’s even used for voting.
That is to say, it could be. Here’s how it works. The electors are sent a password in the mail. They use this password to log on to a secure site. Here they see a list of candidate’s names. They vote for whichever candidate they like and click enter, casting the ballot. They then receive an email, confirming that their vote went through. It’s that simple.
So why aren’t Canadians jumping at the chance to vote from their living rooms?
Carleton University political science graduate student, Nicole Goodman, feels although Canadians are sceptical, Internet voting can have a positive outcome in some countries. Switzerland uses it during provincial elections. Estonia is the only country to use it successfully on a federal level. The United Kingdom, United States and Canada have used it, too, but on a much smaller scale.
Goodman has studied the advantages of such a system. “In a survey of 1200 Canadians, the majority said they would use online voting because of the amount of convenience it offers,” she says. “It gives them the opportunity to vote at any time during an election.”
It also offers accessibility to Canadians without the means to get to a polling place, for example, disabled or elderly people.
“Another benefit,” Goodman says, “may be the potential to get young people to vote given that they are the hardest to reach. They are the reason for part of the decline of voter turnout in this generation.”
St. Thomas University political science professor, Heather Lunergan, agrees. “Young people are the fastest growing group in our society and they are very Internet savvy,” she says. “I think online voting would have a positive effect on participation by younger adults.”
Both Ontario and Nova Scotia have passed legislation and approved what is called “e-voting.” Elections in Markham, ON and Halifax, NS have proven Goodman’s theory that e-voting can increase convenience and accessibility. No direct links have yet been made between e-voting and voter turnout, but Goodman believes they will be.
“Data shows that in countries that have used this service over a period of time, occasional voters said that they would be more likely to vote if they had this opportunity,” Goodman says. “We need more evidence of this, but it’s one obvious potential benefit.”
In January of 2010, Goodman was involved in a workshop in Ottawa entitled “Internet Voting: What Can Canada Learn.” She says this workshop was the beginning of a long trial and research process that will take place before any major changes are made.
“People aren’t sure whether they should trust Internet voting,” Goodman says.”Ballot secrecy is somewhat of an issue since voting in public places might not be as secure.” As with any Internet program, there is a fear of the system being hacked in to or the possibility of viruses.
Fraud and vote-buying are two more major concerns. Goodman speaks of a possible “digital divide” among citizens, since many do not have access to the Internet or have a slower Internet connection than others.
Lunergan is one of the sceptics. “I don’t think the Internet lends itself very well to reasoned thinking about the political process or the candidates/platforms being presented,” she says. “So while Internet voting might make things easier, I am not sure it would contribute to the democratic process. And I fear it might have a negative effect on how informed voters are.”
She also worries about a generational gap. While young people may be happy about the change, there is an elderly population who must be represented. “Much research would need to be done before Internet voting could necessarily reflect all ages in the province/nation,” she says.
In many ways, Goodman agrees. She thinks that most Canadians would be in support of online voting, but doesn’t see it in taking over in the near future.
“Before we have it fully in elections there is quite a bit of work to be done,” she says. “It’s a long time coming, there’s a lot of research, trialing, education, information and public opinion work that need to be done before anything changes.”
Both she and Lunergan believe that the Internet would be added to the voting system for convenience sake, but wouldn’t replace the tradition of going to the polling place to cast a vote as part of a community.
“I really don’t think that the internet can ever replace personal conversations,” Lunergan says, “At least, I hope it won’t!”