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Maybe Internet will entice young voters

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"Spare a thought for the stay-at-home voter His empty eyes gaze at strange beauty shows." -- Salt Of The Earth / The Rolling Stones

 Or American Idol. Or Jersey Shore. Or just screwing around Facebook.

Voter turnout

Including advance polls, special ballots and ordinary polling day, the total number of voters in the 40th general election was 13,929,093, or 58.8 percent of registered electors. This represented a 5.9 percent decrease from the turnout in the 39th general election. It is consistent with a long-term trend for turnout to decline in successive elections. This is a trend observed in most provincial jurisdictions and other established democracies around the world.

--Elections Canada

Definition of Internet Voting

There are two definitions of Internet Voting:

-Poll-site Internet voting: Internet voting stations situated at conventional poll-sites having the same controls that are present today; these could be expanded to include schools and libraries where Internet access is available.

-Remote Internet voting: The ability to vote from anywhere an Internet connection is available, such as home, office, or kiosk. It could involve downloading a ballot, printing it out, filling it in and scanning it in to be emailed to a secure website. Or it could involve checking the names on a secure online ballot, like checking off questions in a web poll, and clicking the "send" button when finished.


Whatever, voter participation, particularly among young Canadians 18 to 30, has dropped like a stone since the early 1990s.

It doesn't matter at what level; municipal, provincial or federal, no one knows exactly why other than people are too darn busy to pay attention to politics, especially on voting day. Or worse, they just don't care.

One idea to change that is Internet or e-voting.

Proponents say that by allowing people to vote online, in the comfort of their home or office, it will increase voter turnout, particularly among young people.

When will it happen?

Sooner than you think.

Plans are already in the works for the next municipal election in 2014 that advance polls in Winnipeg will include the Internet.

"If you want to continue serving the people you serve, you've got to meet their expectations," city clerk Richard Kachur said. "It's also important for the next generation coming up. They use the Internet far more than anyone else. They expect it."

But critics say it's an idea that will never grace a computer screen.

They say the Internet and software cannot be trusted. It's also open to be hacked and there's no paper trail to verify election recounts. They also say e-voting will not increase voter turnout. Low voter turnout is due more to apathy than access. The Internet on voting day won't get people to engage.

"Technology is not going to save the democratic deficit," said University of Manitoba political scientist Jared Wesley. "The fact is more people voted on American Idol than the American president."

Still, the folks at Elections Canada, who run federal elections, say Internet voting is just around the corner.

"This is the way the future is developing," Elections Canada spokesperson Maureen Keenan said.

Keenan said an Elections Canada evaluation of the last federal election in 2008--voter turnout was the lowest recorded in any Canadian federal election--found just more than half of Canadian voters said would be likely to vote on-line.

And almost 70 per cent of youth indicated a likelihood to use the Internet to register or make corrections to their voter information, and were among the most interested in voting on-line.

No surprise, but interest in using an on-line tool increases with the level of education and generally with household income, Elections Canada says.

Keenan said Elections Canada wants to test Internet voting during one or more federal by-elections by 2013.

The goal of Internet Voting Pilot Project is to integrate secure on-line voting into Elections Canada's current paper-based voting process and results reporting.

Only a limited target group of electors will be picked to vote online so that Elections Canada can work out any kinks and improve the system for future elections.

Elections Canada will first phase in voter e-registration so that voters, especially young people, can register online. By next fall, Canadians will be able to confirm their voter status and partially update their information, for example if they've moved.

"Any system Elections Canada uses will be secure, accurate and reliable," Keenan said.

Voting via the Internet is not new.

It's been used in Estonia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, California and three Canadian municipalities; Markham, Halifax, and Peterborough over the past decade. Results are mixed at whether it increased voter turnout. However, officials in Markham saw online voting jump 48 per cent from 7,210 in 2003 to 10,639 online ballots cast in 2006.

That rise contributed to an overall 2006 voter turnout of 37.6 per cent, well above the typical turnout of 28 per cent for a municipal election. Peterborough tested e-voting in advance polls in 2006, with similar results. The highest rate of use there was by those aged 55-64 -- youth actually used e-voting the least,

Other municipalities like Oshawa are looking at Internet voting, but only in advance polls.

In Manitoba, it's paper ballots for now, Elections Manitoba spokesperson Mary Skanderbeg said.

"It's just not there yet," she said, citing security concerns and the fact it's hard to be a scrutineer on election day with the anonymity of the Internet.

"It's not there yet," she said. "I'm sure it's coming. We bank there."

In other jurisdictions people who want to cast a ballot online are provided with a personal identification number to verify they are who they say they are when they vote via computer.

Skanderbeg said the problem is there's no way of checking if that PIN has been given to someone else.

She also said Manitoba has no plans for online voter registration although other provinces, like British Columbia and Alberta, are doing it.

Skanderbeg said for now Manitoba is sticking to in-person, door-to-door voter registration.

Winnipeg's Kachur said the city isn't waiting for the province to implement Internet voting. It will likely partner with Elections Canada.

He also said in the coming months the city will ask the province to amend the Municipal Councils and School Broad Election Act to allow e-voting.

The city has no choice not to.

"When I speak to young people they think we already have it," Kachur said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 18, 2010 H1

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