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Online voting idea scrapped by city council

Research shows no increase in voter turn-out and youth voting with online options

 By Heather Abrey
Kitchener Post staff

Kitchener residents won’t be casting their votes online anytime soon, after council dismissed the idea Monday night.

“It is staff’s opinion that Internet voting should not be introduced for the 2014 elections,” said Randy Gosse, director of legislated services.

“Although it’s been used and trialed and piloted around the world, it really is still a limited number of jurisdictions that offer Internet voting.”

Gosse acknowledged that there will be a time for this system in the future, but there are still too many issues with potential fraud, hacking and the inability to do a recount if necessary.

“In light of our experience in 2010 with the recount, it’s very important that we are able to take a ballot and recreate the election for that particular ward,” said Gosse.

Many people believe that offering online voting would increase voter turnout and help to engage young voters, but research on the issue doesn’t reflect that, according to Gosse.

Several councillors expressed surprise that an online option doesn’t appear to affect young voters or overall voter turnout. Ward 9 Coun. Frank Etherington, who won by a single vote and triggered a recount in the last election, said he has had many people ask about the option.

“Based on that, I think I could have doubled my majority of one,” he said.

Hackers are an oft-cited reason not to use the Internet to vote, but “most experts have deemed the risks in security rather small,” said Gosse. “Especially in municipal elections.”

While there are ways to tamper with elections currently, electronic systems used today are more like giant calculators than computers.

“What we use today are tabulators. All they do is they scan a marked ballot and then record the votes,” said Gosse.

“It’s not connected to any network or the internet. You can’t hack the tabulators.”

But hacking isn’t the only way online voter fraud could occur.

In this system, information would be mailed out to each voting-age individual in a household. That person go online and register with their name, birthday and a PIN number, where they would then create their own voting code.

However, it’s possible for one person in a home to collect all the PIN numbers and cast multiple votes in the place of family members, according to Gosse.

Not only are there potential flaws in the system, it would double the cost of a municipal election from $400,000 to $800,000, said Gosse.

Other municipalities have introduced online voting and reacted by lowering the number of physical polling stations, which resulted in long lines and delays.

While council voted against pursuing Internet voting currently, the option is still open in the future.

“I think it’s something we need to keep looking at,” said Ward Coun. John Gazzola.

“Someday that’s all we’ll do,” agreed Gosse. “We’ll just use smart phones and computers to do our voting. That day will come. I have no doubt about it.”

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