I recently returned from Ottawa participating in my second speaking event in 3 days. I was invited to sit on a panel at a policy workshop at Carleton University put on the Canada-Europe Transatlantic Dialogue, a strategic knowledge cluster.

The workshop was titled, “Internet Voting: What can Canada Learn”.  The hosts of the event, Joan DeBardeleben, Jon Pammett and Nicole Goodman did a great job bringing out some heavy hitting election officials, scholars on Internet Voting and even some MP’s .  They also did a good job structuring the day where we heard from individuals from around the world who have either extensively studied or implemented Internet Voting. A high quality group to say the least.

After hearing some engaging presentations from a US academic, Canadian Municipalities and European countries, I quickly realized that based upon the objective of the workshop that Canadian municipalities should be proud that they are leading the world in demonstrating Internet voting is a viable and successful option.

Delvinia’s client, Kimberley Kitteringham the Town Clerk from Markham did a great job presenting the Markham Internet Voting experience along with her colleague Andrew Brouwer Markham’s Deputy Clerk . It was also enjoyable to listen to the Europeans speak about their experiences.

My panel was focused on the technical considerations with implementing Internet Voting. Odd title, since I was speaking about the Digital Voter Experience and particularly our specific experience working on the communication plan with Markham in the 2003 and 2006 elections. I guess it was a catch all panel. I was with Dean Smith who runs Intelivote Systems, a Canadian technology company that delivers Internet voting solutions. Also on the panel was Jason Gallagher, an Open Source software developer who delivered a comparison of Open Source versus Proprietary software.

My presentation outlined how election officials need to engage voters and I attempted to leave the audience with a message that regardless how you feel about Internet voting, the evidence shows that Internet Voting is here, it works, and people want it.

[slideshare id=3000652&doc=internetvotingpresentationottawa-100126230453-phpapp02]

Instead of saying why we shouldn’t do it, those who have concerns should be bringing their skills to bear to help ensure integrity of the election process is preserved, as well as, that the technology can withstand the malicious attacks that can unfortunately occur.

People Want It

There are still the Internet Voting pundits like Richard Akerman (who runs a blog called “PaperVoteCanada”) asking the usual questions about security to try to deflect the reality that Internet Voting is here. I love this guy, because he has a point of view and he is passionate about what he believes in – kind of like me. However, although Richard is passionate about his cause to ONLY have paper ballots, this argument is very tiring. It’s akin to saying that people should only buy products in bricks and mortar stores because the internet is not secure. Come on.

The Internet is here. Technology is in our lives. To completely abandon the fact that people want Internet voting as an option, yes, an option, is ludicrous. Internet Voting is needed, because voters want it. Not to replace paper ballots, but as an alternative to paper ballots. Even the presenters from Europe who had implemented Internet voting cited the same overwhelming supportive data as we have from our work with Markham.

I loved the it when Cathy Mellett, who ran the election in Halifax stated that Internet Voting was part of their “Green Strategy”. Brilliant!! What I’m thrilled to hear is that Markham will be continuing to offer Internet Voting as an option in the upcoming election.

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

I’m all for ensuring security, so let’s have the conversation about making it secure, maintaining the voting process integrity and ensuring accuracy, rather than simply saying we shouldn’t do it. Concerns around privacy, security, scrutinizing votes, recounts, voting fraud can all be addressed if the desire was to come up with solutions to address these possibilities rather than simply saying they are there.

Let’s not forget that issues like voting fraud are already dealt with in our criminal code. You get caught, you go to jail – simple. The ability to track online behaviour already exists, so why not use it to deal with this type of fraudulent behaviour. And if I hear another election official say that we need to continue to study Internet voting, I’m going to pass out.

And the pundits need to stop talking about the lack of conclusive evidence on the efficacy of Internet Voting, because the current system clearly isn’t getting out the vote, particularly among young voters. There is already legislation in place for provinces and Elections Canada to pilot Internet voting. Why do they simply say that they need to continue to study the viability of Internet voting without even piloting it?

Unfortunately, this brings up the reality of why we face this lack of acknowledgment that Internet Voting is here. There is no political will to introduce Internet Voting. Internet Voting has the potential to fundamentally change how elections are run as well as the candidates’ strategies to become elected. Imagine if in Markham, the majority of votes occurred during the advance poll thus making the actual election day a “post election poll”? Candidates would have to change the way they campaign.

What if Internet Voting helped to contribute to a near 100% voter turnout? Now that’s democracy.

If we build it, they will come

A little far fetched for sure, but imagine if Internet Voting was a safe and secure process and provided an option to every Canadian to vote in a convenient and safe manner. Imagine the costs being reduced because the need for less polling stations. Imagine the opportunity for governments to reach out to Canadians on legislation before government and within a couple of days, receive feedback from Canadians on how they want them to vote. All of a sudden, we’d have a truly transparent government acting in the best interests of the majority of Canadians.

The true vision of a participatory government and making politicians a part of the conversation with Canadians is what the Canadian public needs and deserves. Isn’t it time for we as Canadians to speak up and demand a change in how our governments embrace what Canadians want?

I look forward to your comments – whether you agree or not.

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