Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Electronic voting past due in Ontario

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AT a time when even the most sensitive personal and financial transactions can be safely executed online, it makes good sense to introduce voting to modern technology.

And now that Ontario's chief electoral officer, Greg Essensa, has tabled a 271-page report recommending the embrace of technology, it's clear the modernization of voting is long overdue. A radical concept, this is not.

If Ontarians can safely execute online banking transactions or health-card renewals, then surely the act of voting must also catch up with the times. The Ontario government should move quickly to implement the online voting Essensa recommends.

Even if the province acts swiftly, change is still a long time away. The recommendation for a $1.75-million pilot project by 2017 means no change until after the next provincial election, at the earliest. It's anyone's guess how technology will have changed by the time the pilot project is finally carried out, but at least now Ontario knows it needs to play catch-up.

Indeed, it can't happen soon enough. The report notes voter participation in the 2011 Ontario election dropped below 50 per cent, setting a record low. But as the Toronto Star's Robert Benzie reports, Essensa believes that decline can be reversed to some extent through the ease of online voting.

"We need to identify and remove barriers in our processes and procedures that may discourage people from voting," Essensa wrote. He's right. Anyone who has raced through gridlock to stand in a stuffy school auditorium for the pleasure of exercising their democratic right behind a cardboard voting station would agree.

The current system, the report says, is "no longer sustainable." It notes increasing difficulties in the recruiting and training of the 70,000 people needed to work on election day, since fewer are willing or able to do the job.

Still, no one, including Essensa, expects online voting will create a dramatic spike in participation rates. The report cites a report by the City of Edmonton, which looked at Internet voting though did not adopt it in the end; it concluded while not a solution to voter apathy, its benefits are significant enough that "some electors may be encouraged to participate." In particular, people with disabilities and voters who live outside the province may find it easier to cast a ballot.

Of course, there are concerns about the type of identification voters will need in order to vote online, but for the proposed pilot project a driver's licence will suffice.

For now, it's most important that the government move forward with Essensa's plan. When faced with modernization or voter decline, a flourishing democracy should win.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 28, 2013 A13

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