Federal voting in Canada is generally done on paper. Electronic voting (e-voting) has been identified as the reform with the most significant benefits and challenges. E-voting developments in Estonia and Switzerland can guide Canada’s potential e-voting implementation. Implementing e-voting offers convenience, increased voter turnout, reduced spoiled and errored ballots, and possible improvements to the efficiency of elections. Challenges include limitations of digital literacy and access, ballot secrecy, audibility, and possibilities for fraud and coercion. This article recommends that Elections Canada actively research and test e-voting in pilot projects on a trial basis to lay the groundwork for future development in federal elections.
The proliferation of digital technology is changing Canadian life by becoming embedded in our lives and modernizing our institutions and culture. One such digital technology is e-voting, having the ability to vote online from any location and any time. Convenience is the leading benefit of e-voting implementation. The option to vote at any time and any location would reduce traditional election costs and time spent by voters when casting traditional ballots. Secondly, remote e-voting can improve voter turnout by increasing accessibility to those typically underrepresented during elections. Thirdly, e-voting can enhance the effectiveness of tabulating votes by reducing the frequency of spoiled and errored ballots. Implementing e-voting technology can be accomplished through either Blockchain or End-to-End Verifiable Internet voting technology.
Researchers examining online voting in Canadian municipalities have found that internet voting increases voter turnout by about 3% . Populations that typically have the lowest voter turnout, such as youth and persons with disabilities, have been found to have an increased likelihood of voting when e-voting is an option, showing that e-voting reform can positively affect voter turnout in Canada.
Spoiled and errored votes occur by selecting too many or too few candidates or using unclear markings on the ballot. E-voting can reduce spoiled and errored ballots as e-voting does not use paper and pencil; it uses a screen to select candidates. Thereby restricting the selection options to one candidate rather than having the potential to choose more than one.
Ballot secrecy is one of the top challenges to e-voting implementation because the nature of an unsupervised environment can lead to voting fraud or coercion. Voting fraud is the manipulation of vote results by increasing or decreasing the vote share of a candidate. Voter coercion is forcing someone to vote for a candidate the voter would otherwise not have voted for. Digital literacy refers to a person’s technical competencies with computers, devices, and the internet. Research confirms that those with higher digital literacy have a higher likelihood of e-voting compared to those with lower digital literacy. Access to computers, devices, and the internet further increases this challenge by creating a digital divide between populations that have and do not have access to computers, devices, and the internet.
Authentication and verification in e-voting systems are two components that are necessary for implementation. Authentication refers to the voter confirming who they are, typically by social insurance number. In tun, verification is the confirmation of the vote by that person. Proving who the voter is and who they voted can reduce voter fraud by making it increasingly more difficult to manipulate total votes for a candidate. The approaches used for each component can depend on which methods of e-voting are desired: electronic voting stations at kiosks, remote PC voting, or mobile voting. To achieve authentication and verification, two implementation methods are proposed for addressing the benefits and challenges of e-voting: Blockchain and End-to-End Verifiable Internet Votin.
Blockchains are a distributed database of records for all completed votes and are shared with all participating parties in the database. Each vote is verified by consensus from the participating parties. Once consensus is reached, the vote is verified and cannot be changed or edited. This verification process increases authentication, transparency, and security of citizen votes. However, blockchain cannot solve the challenges surrounding ballot secrecy and digital literacy and divide.
End-to-End Verifiable Internet Voting is premised on having proof the voter’s ballot made it into the ballot box, and that those with access can establish the votes are tallied correctly. There is near-unanimous support that an End-to-End verifiable system is required for e-voting integrity and audibility. Like blockchain, this technology does not solve the challenges surrounding ballot secrecy and digital literacy and divide which is why we must consider further policy options.
Canadian Policy Options
Option 1: Pilot Projects
Canada can utilize a slow phased-in approach through pilot projects that would incrementally grow in population size. These pilot projects would run using verification and authentication systems in areas with access to technology and interest in remote e-voting. This approach will leverage the pre-existing digital infrastructure of other national government services. Looking to Estonia and Switzerland’s successfully run e-voting pilot projects, Canada can use their recommendations to inform Canada’s approach to possible pilot projects and their environments. The Canadian pilots will inform legal frameworks, regulations, audibility, and improvement of e-voting technology.
Option 2: Further Research
Before any further consideration can be given to e-voting implementation in Canada, researchers within and outside Canada must conduct new research on solutions of blockchain and end-to-end verifiable internet voting technology limitations. Answers to these limitations allow for a streamlined and less cumbersome implementation in the future. Years of trial and error research have taken Estonia and Switzerland’s systems to a more advanced state. The years of trial and error research make this option an ineffective and inefficient use of time for Canada.
This report recommends that Elections Canada actively pursue e-voting pilot projects to lay the groundwork for possible future development. This recommendation gives researchers and Elections Canada ample time to flesh out and solve the technological challenges around blockchain and end-to-end verifiable internet voting while also furthering digital literacy through citizen participation in these pilot projects.
Benjamin is a Master of Public Policy and Administration student who has received the Canada Graduate Scholarship-Masters (SSHRC), Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS), and the Social Innovation Graduate Fellowship to support his research. He holds undergraduate degrees in Criminology and Psychology and Certificates in Global Entrepreneurship and Foreign Intelligence Assessment. He works on research projects surrounding: e-commerce for community-made products in Gjoa Haven, Nunavut; jury decision-making; and data governance policy on police body-worn cameras digital evidence management.
Banner image by Elliott Stallion courtesy of Unsplash.