Edmonton demonstrates leadership on path to eDemocracy

This past weekend I was asked to participate in an interesting public policy consultation process organized by the Centre for Public Involvement, which is a partnership between the City of Edmonton and the University of Alberta. As one of its initiatives, the Centre was seeking input from Edmonton residents on whether the city should offer Internet voting in future elections.

The public consultation process involved a jury of citizens, selected by the Centre, to hear expert testimony from industry and academic leaders who offered their opinions, research, and approaches to Internet voting.

Nicole Goodman, the PhD candidate who authored our 2011 Dig Report, eDemocracy and Citizen Engagement: The Delvinia Report on Internet Voting in the Town of Markham, shared her insights into the Internet voting experience in Markham from the research we did together. (As a side note, Nicole successfully completed her PhD in the fall, and in my humble opinion, she is one of the world’s foremost experts on Internet voting and alternative voting methods.)

I presented to the Citizens Jury via a WebEx connection from the Delvinia office in Toronto.

I usually present to a professional or government audience, so this was the first time that I had the opportunity to address a citizen (consumer) audience. I approached the presentation by telling the story of Delvinia’s experience working with Markham on Internet voting.

The Markham Experience

Since I was speaking to a jury of citizens, I first recognized the perceived risks associated with Internet voting, those being:

  • security of technology
  • voter authentication and
  • compromising the democratic process.

I then went on to discuss how Markham addressed these risks by:

  • stating that Internet voting was one option to vote and not the only way;
  • running an extensive voter outreach and education program, designed with Delvinia’s support;
  • creating a rigorous online voter registration process;
  • making Internet voting available only for early voting and not on election day;
  • ensuring that technical security was on high alert when Internet voting was available.

After I took the jury through my experience in the last three municipal elections in Markham, I felt that it was important to transition the discussion of Internet voting into the broader topic about my thoughts on the future of democracy. Internet voting is often looked to as the magic solution to solving voter turnout. However, I am not convinced that this should be the primary reason to consider Internet voting.

The future of citizen engagement will be through using digital technologies to connect with citizens to become more involved in democracy, or as many call this, eDemocracy.  eDemocracy will create a more engaged citizen and ultimately what everyone wants – a more responsible government.

The Edmonton Jury

I concluded my presentation by asking whether the jury should rephrase the question; Should the City of Edmonton introduce Internet voting? to; What will the implications be if the City of Edmonton does not offer Internet voting?

The Citizens Jury reached a consensus on Sunday, voting to recommend that Edmonton implement Internet voting in the next municipal election. I hope my presentation about the Markham experience helped these citizens realize that having the option to cast their vote online is important, and that the future of citizen engagement is about ensuring that citizens have the ability to participate through all possible channels.