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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Elections Ontario Report on Telephone and Internet Voting is A Slap in the Face to Voters with Disabilities

Elections Ontario Refuses to Now Use Its Authority To Test Telephone and/or Internet Voting in By-Elections, Despite Their Use in 59 Municipalities in Ontario and Nova Scotia and No Findings that They Were Hacked or Unreliable

June 27, 2013, Toronto: On June 24, 2013, Elections Ontario finally tabled a long-awaited Report on telephone and internet voting, three years in the making, with the Ontario Legislature. This Report is a huge slap in the face of voters with disabilities.

Telephone and internet voting would help many voters with disabilities overcome unfair barriers they still too often face when trying to exercise their fundamental constitutional right to vote in provincial elections. The non-partisan AODA Alliance has campaigned for telephone and internet voting for several years.

With this News Release, the AODA Alliance makes public its detailed analysis of the Elections Ontario Report. It concludes that skimmed quickly, the Elections Ontario Report makes it sound like Elections Ontario is high on telephone and internet voting, and just has some kinks to work out. Yet reading it more carefully, this Report is a formula for more delay and foot-dragging.

Elections Ontario is in effect refusing to test telephone and internet voting in this year’s upcoming four Ontario by-elections. This flies in the face of Elections Ontario’s written commitment to voters with disabilities on December 3, 2010 that it planned to be ready to test telephone and internet voting by 2012. For Elections Ontario’s commitment to be ready to test telephone and internet voting in a 2012 by-election, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/04082011.asp

“Elections Ontario now only offers vague plans of yet more study with no end in sight. A tremendous impending opportunity will again unfairly be wasted,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance. “Four upcoming Ontario by-elections later this year would provide a great time to test these voting options, using technology already used in 59 municipalities in Ontario and Nova Scotia.”

It was tenacious pressure from the disability community in support of telephone and internet voting that led the Ontario Legislature to order Elections Ontario to conduct this study of telephone and internet voting, with its prime focus on overcoming barriers to voting that too many voters with disabilities face. Yet the report largely plays down and marginalizes the needs of voters with disabilities. Its prime focus is instead on questions of whether telephone and internet voting would increase voter turnout, and be more convenient for all voters.

As a result of this Report, over one million Ontario voters with disabilities must continue suffering under Ontario’s Elections Act. It imposes an unjustified total ban on telephone and internet voting, technology that can make the voting process truly accessible. It gives the power to lift that arbitrary legal ban to Ontario’s unelected and unaccountable Chief Electoral Officer, Greg Essensa. We are troubled that Mr. Essensa shows no real interest in acting boldly and expeditiously to lift that ban.

In 2010, the AODA Alliance led the fight for amendments to Ontario’s Elections Act to provide for telephone and internet voting. We won a weak requirement that Elections Ontario prepare a report on this technology, though the Legislature gave Elections Ontario a leisurely three years to do so. Elections Ontario delayed, using every minute of that time. It produced a report this week that is a huge let-down.

In 2010 we also won an amendment to the Elections Act that lets Elections Ontario test telephone and internet voting in a by-election starting in 2012. Yet last year Elections Ontario unjustifiably refused to test these voting options in two Ontario by-elections. Its June 24, 2013 Report continues that unfair refusal.

Below we:

* Give a three-page summary of the problems with Elections Ontario’s Report from a disability perspective;
* Give a more detailed nine-page analysis of the Report’s key findings;
* Set out a June 25, 2013 Toronto Star article on this Report which makes the Report seem more supportive of telephone and internet voting than our analysis shows.
* Set out the Toronto Star’s June 26, 2013 editorial, calling for on-line voting in Ontario elections.

Contact: David Lepofsky, Chair
AODA Alliance
aodafeedback@gmail.com
Twitter: @aodaalliance

Elections Ontario’s June 24, 2013 final report on telephone and internet voting is available in MS Word format at http://www.aodaalliance.org/docs/Alternative-Voting-Report-acc.doc

Appendix 5 of Elections Ontario’s final report on telephone and internet voting is available in MS Word at http://www.aodaalliance.org/docs/Appendix5-Network-Voting-Business-Case.doc

Learn more about the multi-year campaign to win accessible voting for Ontario voters with disabilities by visiting http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/ElectionInOntario.asp

Watch the May 28, 2010 interview of AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky on TV Ontario’s flagship program “The Agenda with Steve Paikin,” exploring our campaign for accessible elections by visiting http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/06062010.asp

1. THREE-PAGE SUMMARY OF OUR RESPONSE TO THE ELECTIONS ONTARIO REPORT ON TELEPHONE AND INTERNET VOTING

* This Report is ultimately a recipe for more delays and more study, without concrete specifics for its future plans, and with no end in sight. Elections Ontario says that even after fully three years of study, it is still not ready to test telephone and internet voting in an Ontario by-election. It is not clear that Elections Ontario will ever be ready to test these accessible voting technologies. This is so even though Elections Ontario’s final Report shows that telephone and internet voting has been deployed in many Ontario municipalities in municipal elections. Elections Ontario provides no specific and detailed roadmap and plan leading to a test pilot of telephone and internet voting in an Ontario by-election.

* The major impetus for telephone and internet voting in Ontario comes from voters with disabilities. They want to be able to mark their ballots independently and in private, and to verify their choice, without facing unfair barriers. For example, blind or low vision voters, and voters with dyslexia cannot mark their own paper ballot in their local polling station anywhere they live in Ontario. Below we address Elections Ontario’s unsuccessful efforts to address the needs of these voters in the 2011 election.

Despite this core source of the campaign to adopt telephone and internet voting in Ontario, the main body of Elections Ontario’s final report gives very limited attention, quite low profile and ultimately short shrift to this disability accessibility concern, for the most part. A reader of the Report who does not venture all the way to and through its long Appendix 5 will not fully appreciate that telephone and internet voting has this tremendous benefit, or that it was the main thrust of the call for deployment of these voting options. Where the main body of the final Report purports to summarize the pros and cons of experience with telephone and internet voting to date in places where these have been used, it makes no mention of the benefits for voters with disabilities until it eventually reaches Australia.

* The Report in effect condemns telephone and internet voting as unsafe and untrustworthy, even though it reveals that fully 44 Ontario municipalities and 15 Nova Scotia municipalities have used some form of these voting options in municipal elections. It is telling that Elections Ontario does not claim that any or all of those municipal elections were hacked, were insufficiently secured, or illegitimate or invalid, or that the public lacks confidence in them, due to telephone and internet voting. The Report does not specifically show why at least one of the options for telephone and/or internet voting used in even one of those 59 Canadian municipalities cannot safely be tested in an Ontario by-election.

* Elections Ontario having in effect given up for the immediate future on telephone and internet voting as a way to now overcome barriers impeding voters with disabilities, that important public agency offers no new alternative to address these recurring barriers. This is all the more troubling since Elections Ontario’s recent effort to meet those needs has for most voters with disabilities not solve the problem.

Many of the one million or more voters with disabilities in Ontario cannot independently and privately mark their own ballot and verify their selection. In 2010, acting on Elections Ontario’s recommendation, the Legislature approved deployment of a minimum of only one accessible voting machine per riding. Elections Ontario doubled up in some larger ridings. For all of Ontario, Elections Ontario only deployed 144 of its accessible voting machines. Voters with disabilities who wanted to use these machines had to vote in an advance poll and had to trek all the way to the one or two spots in their entire riding where these were available.

According to Elections Ontario, a mere 166 voters with disabilities in all of Ontario use these accessible voting machines in the entire 2011 Ontario general election. That is a tiny percentage of the voters with disabilities in Ontario who now face voting barriers. Of those voters who used Elections Ontario’s accessible voting machines, some encountered problems with these machines, even after Elections Ontario had already tested and approved them for deployment.

* Partway through the three years that Elections Ontario took to prepare this Report, it unjustifiably dissolved the Disability Advisory Committee that it had just created months earlier. It therefore presumably couldn’t run this final Report by that Committee before finalizing it.

* Elections Ontario’s main excuse for more delays is its concern about the security of telephone and internet voting. It never answers our main contention, namely that if we can reliably bank by phone or on line, and file our taxes on line, why can’t the Government figure out how to securely vote on line or by phone?

* For Elections Ontario to rely so heavily on stated concerns about security of the vote is especially troubling. This is because the Report uses an unfair and unjustified double standard about voting security. This works directly against voters with disabilities.

Elections Ontario uses security criteria which it says telephone and internet voting can’t now overcome. Yet Elections Ontario does not insist on these criteria when it now enthusiastically offers voters the option of mail-in ballots. Mail-in ballots have major security gaps. These are subject to the minimal security of Canada Post, and an utter lack of security at the voter’s home address. If a voter has a mail-in ballot at their home, someone else can swipe it, mark the ballot, and mail it in. Add to that the risk of Canada Post either losing the ballot in the mail en route to the voter, or en route back to Elections Ontario. Elections Ontario will be none the wiser. Elections Ontario says that current voting options, that include mail-in ballots, serve Ontarians well.

* Elections Ontario knew well that the Legislature’s aim for this mandatory study was to address the needs of voters with disabilities. Having now discarded telephone and internet voting for the present and indefinite future, the main Report offers the Ontario Legislature no suggestions of other ways to reduce the many unfair barriers that impede voters with disabilities.

For example, Elections Ontario’s Final Report rejects the option of testing telephone and internet voting in a by-election now and for an indeterminate time, but does not offer any other option for testing it. We asked Elections Ontario fully seven months ago to propose other options for testing telephone and internet voting, such as during a mock election, or during the next Ontario municipal elections (where a number of municipalities will deploy telephone and internet voting).

* A June 25, 2013 Toronto star article, set out below, quotes Elections Ontario as contemplating the possibility of requiring a driver’s license as a mandatory form of identification for using telephone and internet voting during a by-election test. This, of course, would constitute a huge barrier for those voters with vision loss, who don’t qualify for a driver’s licence. These are among the voters who most pressingly need telephone and internet voting. Elections Ontario acknowledges in that Toronto Star article that this is an impediment for voters who can’t get a driver’s licence.

It is true that Ontario makes available a provincial identity card for people who don’t drive. However, there is a fee. Also, one must trek to a provincial office to apply. Other voters do not have to pay a fee and make a similar trek to qualify to privately and independently vote in a provincial election in their home or local polling station.

* Elections Ontario did not need to take fully three years to produce this Report, which only sets out a framework for possibly testing telephone and internet voting at some future time. Its contents could easily have been produced with due diligence within six months after May 2010. In May 2010 the Ontario Legislature directed Elections Ontario to conduct this study. Elections Ontario’s criteria for telephone and internet voting could have been devised in minutes, not years.

* The Ontario Government under Dalton McGuinty has recognized that voters with disabilities face too many barriers when trying to exercise the democratic right to vote. In the 2007 election, Premier McGuinty promised to develop an accessible elections action plan. In the 2011 Ontario election, Premier McGuinty promised the following in connection with barriers to voting: “We recognize that there is more to do, and we will continue to build on our progress when it comes to making municipal and provincial elections more accessible.”

In her December 3, 2012 letter to the AODA Alliance, Kathleen Wynne promised that if she becomes Ontario’s premier, she would keep all of Dalton McGuinty’s commitments on accessibility to people with disabilities. Some six years after it was first promised, Ontario still has no accessible elections action plan.

With Elections Ontario’s Final Report on telephone and internet voting, the ball is back in the court of the Ontario Government under Premier Kathleen Wynne. She needs to now assign a cabinet minister with responsibility to finally keep her Government’s promises on accessible voting for voters with disabilities. The Government needs to bring forward real action, and not more studies, to give to Ontarians with disabilities the rights in the provincial electoral process that others take for granted. The Government needs to take away from the unelected and unaccountable Chief Electoral Officer his absolute veto over truly accessible voting for all voters with disabilities.

2. A MORE DETAILED ANALYSIS

* In its introductory letter from the Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Ontario reveals that its efforts after three full years of study are, for all voters, and at the very least, for voters with disabilities, a failure. It concludes: “At this point, we do not have a viable method of network voting that meets our criteria and protects the integrity of the electoral process.”

Later in the Report, Elections Ontario announces in substance that it categorically refuses to test telephone and internet voting in any by-election at the present time. One has to read the Report carefully to get the full picture of this serious abdication of Elections Ontario’s mandate under the Elections Act. The Report states: “Within it, we present the key findings of our review, including a summary of our research process and the development of our implementation criteria, our business case and an explanation of our decision not to continue with our network voting pilot.”

The Report later documents that telephone and internet voting has been deployed in a good number of Ontario municipalities and elsewhere. Elections Ontario’s Report, read as a whole, appears to imply, but not directly state or prove, that those were not proper and legitimate elections. After an excessively long three years to study telephone and internet voting, this shows either that Elections Ontario did not try hard enough to work out how to properly deploy telephone and internet voting, or that it has unfairly set the bar far too high, to the detriment of voters with disabilities.

* The Report does not give an informative, in-depth explanation of why Elections Ontario decided in 2012 not to proceed with a test of telephone and internet voting in a by-election at any time in that year. Ontarians, and especially voters with disabilities, deserved a detailed explanation. Elections Ontario’s explanations to us in the past had been vague and conclusory.

The Report offers bureaucratic jargon which simply boils down to a vague claim that Elections Ontario decided that telephone and internet voting in a 2012 Ontario by-election wasn’t feasible. It states:

“In the spring of 2012, taking into consideration the implementation criteria and the possible off-ramp points, the Chief Electoral Officer determined that a pilot project was not feasible in 2012.

In assessing the proposed network voting solution, we determined that proceeding with a pilot project alongside our existing electoral process would be a significant undertaking – both in terms of the front end delivery of the election, as well as the back end technical processes. By evaluating the implementation against our criteria, we determined that it would introduce more complexity and security issues, operational challenges and risk than originally anticipated. It would take time to determine whether these identified risks could be adequately resolved. As such, we did not proceed to the next stage of pilot development.”

* The Report describes current voting methods as having “…served us well in the past…” We disagree. For many voters with disabilities, our current voting processes are full of barriers that prevent them from being able to independently mark their ballot in private and verify their choice, and especially if they wish to do so in their nearby polling station as voters without disabilities can.

* Elections Ontario has unfairly deployed a stunning double-standard when studying telephone and internet voting, to the detriment of voters with disabilities who need that technology to enjoy the same right to independently and privately mark their ballot and verify their choice, as can voters without disabilities. The Report lists a series of 8 criteria that telephone and internet voting must meet. These include, among others:

“The electoral process will ensure that before allowing a voter to cast a vote, that the identity of the voter is the same as claimed, and that the elector is eligible to vote.”

“The electoral process shall ensure that the votes used in the counting process are the ones cast by valid eligible voters.”

“The voting process will provide means for verifying if the results clearly represent the intention of the voters that participated in the voting process.”

The Report also states: “It is critical that the general public trusts the security of new voting and counting processes and their ability to deliver a result that is a true and accurate.

These sound like obvious motherhood propositions. Yet Elections Ontario’s process for voting by mail-in ballots don’t ensure these safeguards. Despite its obvious and unmonitorable risks, Elections Ontario has not called for the new mail-in voting method to be abolished in light of its gaping violations of its core principles. Its report does not show that telephone and internet voting poses anywhere near the risk that mail-in ballots pose – a risk that Elections Ontario finds amply tolerable.

* At the end of the main body of the Report, Elections Ontario claims to be “excited” about the possibility of deploying new voting technology. Yet in the end, the Report shows that Elections Ontario now refuses to deploy it, even as a test in a by-election. It merely makes vague statements about continuing to study this technology.

* In findings that support our call for telephone and internet voting, the Report documents increasing and serious problems with continuing to operate elections in Ontario by traditional means and without telephone and internet voting. It also commendably finds these impressive benefits of telephone and internet voting:

“Our research has found that the potential benefits of network voting include:

• Increased choice for electors in how and when they cast their ballot.
• Voting is more accessible to electors with disabilities.
• Voting is more accessible to electors who live outside the jurisdiction, such as military voters, students and snowbirds.
• Fast and accurate tabulation is often made possible by network voting – useful for jurisdictions where votes are cast for multiple offices or referenda questions and can replace aging vote counting equipment.
• Network voting facilitates voting where elections or referenda are held frequently.
• Reductions in the number of election workers and voting locations.
• Cost reductions may be achieved, particularly by jurisdictions that eliminate paper ballots.
• Environmental benefits may result from reduced travel by electors and election officials and less paper is required for poll materials, ballots and staff training materials.”

* The Report recites the results of public opinion polls on public perceptions of telephone and internet voting. Yet the fundamental constitutional rights of voters with disabilities do not and should not depend on public opinion surveys like this. Moreover, there is no basis for Elections Ontario to believe that the public opinion to which it refers is fully informed, regarding the barriers to voting accessibility confronting so many voters with disabilities. Would public opinion on this issue be different if those surveyed were told about the fact that many voters with disabilities cannot now independently and privately mark a ballot and verify their choice? Public opinion might be favourably affected if those surveyed were told that fully 59 municipalities in Ontario and Nova Scotia have used network voting.

* Elections Ontario’s snail-paced three year delay to reach this unacceptable conclusion is declared in the Report to be “the beginning” and the “first step.” A first step shouldn’t take fully three years. Voters with disabilities deserve more prompt action. The Report states: “We are excited by the role that technology can play in making improvements to Ontario’s voting process. Our 2013 – 2017 Strategic Plan demonstrates our commitment to building choice for electors and modernizing the way in which we elect our provincial representatives.

It will take time and resources to modernize, and potentially introduce a new method of voting, but we have taken the first step by clarifying our approach and defining our implementation criteria. While there is not yet a network voting solution that meets our criteria, we will continue to evaluate systems and approaches so that when it is warranted, we are prepared to recommend methods to modernize the voting process.

This report marks the culmination of our research and activity, but should not be viewed as the end of our work on network voting – rather it is the beginning. We will continue to report on our efforts to innovate and modernize Ontario’s electoral process in our annual reports.”

* Further showing Elections Ontario’s snail’s pace, the Report shows that Elections Ontario delayed until partway through 2012, almost two years into the study, to decide to further consult stakeholders on such obvious things as the goals of a pilot study of telephone and internet voting in a by-election. The Report states: “At that point, we also decided to conduct a more extensive consultation with our key stakeholders to ensure that we had a common understanding of our implementation criteria and the goals of a pilot.” A little later, the Report added: “We also needed to ensure that all of our stakeholders had a common understanding of what constituted success in a pilot project. “

Well before early or mid 2012, surely Elections Ontario should have known full well the obvious goals for running a test pilot of telephone and internet voting in a by-election, and the criteria for success. Stakeholders would equally understand this after a moment’s thought.

* We told Elections Ontario seven months ago that much of its business case for telephone and internet voting in the Report’s Appendix 5 could have been prepared much earlier.

* Calling telephone and internet voting into question, the Report speculates; “Piloting internet and telephone voting in a by-election could cost close to $2 million and yield only 1,000 votes.”

We doubt that so few voters would use this technology if given the chance. Certainly, on-line and telephone banking has won significant public approval. Moreover, the Report’s own data about the use of this accessible voting technology in New South Wales, Australia, quoted below, disproves Elections Ontario’s unfounded speculation.

* The Report states: “We needed to have further discussions with our stakeholders to help them understand that we would be measuring the success of the pilot against how well it upheld our implementation criteria and not by cost per vote.”

Yet this is not rocket science. To our recollection, Elections Ontario did not even raise this with us as a serious concern during our November 19, 2012 consultation meeting or at any other time.

* Seemingly contradicting the Report’s commendable view that “cost per vote” is not a fair way to gauge telephone and internet voting, the Report later states as a result of the U.S. experience:

“Second, we need taxpayers to understand the costs involved in testing new technology. The U.S. Department of Defense spent $62 million for 84 votes. In times of fiscal constraint, it can be challenging to find the funds to cover expenditures for innovation. If modernization is to be a priority, then it will require a clear mandate for additional funds to allow for building new infrastructure, conducting tests and communicating with stakeholders.”

In discussing cost in that context, the Report does not acknowledge the fundamentally vital fact that this technology is needed to ensure accessible voting for many voters with disabilities. When a denial of constitutional rights is in issue, a Government or public election agency like Elections Ontario cannot so baldly and blithely wave cost around to justify delay or inaction.

* Supporting our call for telephone and internet voting, the Report reveals that these voting options have been used far more widely in Ontario municipal elections than we had known. The main Report documents no security violations in any of those instances. The Report states: “In 2010, 44 of 444 Ontario municipalities offered network voting for their municipal elections.”

Later the Report states: “Some municipalities, such as Stratford, entirely eliminated in-person paper ballots, and offered only internet and telephone voting in the 2010 municipal election. All of the information required to cast a ballot (a unique PIN) was mailed directly to the elector in one mail out.

Other municipalities, such as Markham, the largest Ontario municipality to use internet voting, offered the choice to vote by internet only during the advance vote period. Electors wishing to vote online were required to pre-register, at which point their names would be taken off the voters list as that would now be the only way in which they could cast their ballot. Upon registering, electors were prompted to create a unique security question and, shortly after, were mailed a unique PIN. Use of the PIN and the correct response to the unique security question were required before a ballot could be accessed.

Different authentication mechanisms were used in other municipalities, such as Peterborough. In Peterborough, internet voting was offered during the advance vote period. All electors on the voters list were mailed a notice of registration card or letter with a unique elector identifier (EID). To access the online election services electors were required to log in to the system prior to registering, using their EID as well as solving a CAPTCHA challenge. A CAPTCHA challenge is a random test generated by a computer to ensure that the test is being answered by a human being and not an automated system. After registering, voters had the option of having a PIN code mailed or e-mailed to them.”

Still later the Report states: “The municipal experience provides information that can be used to assess the impact of network voting on voter turnout since a few municipalities have used network voting for multiple elections. For example, Markham used network voting for their 2003, 2006, and 2010 municipal elections. In 2003, Markham’s overall voter turnout went down by one-and-a-half per cent. In the 2006 election, voter turnout increased substantially. In the following municipal election in 2010, the number and per cent of online voters declined and overall voter turnout slightly decreased.

The Report documented that there was a positive response when telephone and internet voting was deployed in Ontario in municipal elections, despite technical issues. The Report states:

“Election managers who responded to a post-election survey by the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers (AMCTO) indicated that they had a fairly high level of satisfaction with network voting after using in to conduct their election. Among those who evaluated network voting, 86% were satisfied with internet voting and 83% were satisfied with telephone voting.

While there were high levels of satisfaction among those who administered network voting, a total of 33 municipalities experienced system delays on election day when servers became overloaded due to hardware problems and higher-than-expected levels of access by election candidates. Electors were delayed in casting their votes during this time. In some cases, voting hours were extended by an hour in order to compensate for the lost time; at least one municipality extended voting for a full day.

According to a statement provided by the vendor to the 33 municipalities “During the heavy load, the system experienced a hardware server error that resulted in the entire load on the system being switched to the redundant load-sharing server. A combination of the heavy voting activity and the administrative activity resulted in the system reducing the capacity to process voter activity over a 57-minute period.” The vendor apologized for the inconvenience and provided assurances that “the integrity of the vote activity was not compromised and (the vendor) is confident in the official election results.”

* The Report documented the use of telephone and internet voting in Nova Scotia Municipal elections. The Report states: “In Nova Scotia, Halifax Regional Municipality, the capital city, employed internet voting for municipal elections in 2008 and 2012, adding a telephone option for 2012. With a population of 390,000, it is the largest jurisdiction in Canada to use network voting. In 2008, four municipalities in Nova Scotia offered internet voting in their municipal elections. By 2012, that number had grown, and 15 municipalities offered internet voting.”

* The Report’s comments on efforts with telephone and internet voting in the U.S. are clearly negative. Yet, the Report recognizes that some U.S. jurisdictions have tried some form of telephone and internet voting, without providing any summary of any results, including any benefits. The Report states: “In the United States, where all levels of elections are run at state or local levels, various internet voting pilots and uses have been developed or undertaken in several jurisdictions, including in Honolulu, Hawaii, the state of Vermont, and for military electors.”

When we met with Elections Ontario on November 19, 2012, Elections Ontario was oblivious to the fact that Honolulu had used telephone and internet voting. They had not discovered this fact after supposedly studying telephone and internet voting for over two years, even though it turns up on a quick Google search. They only learned about it from us at that meeting.

* It is troubling that when reviewing the Ontario and Nova Scotia municipal experience, as well as the local U.S. experience with telephone and internet voting, the main body of Elections Ontario’s Report says not a word about its impact on improving voting accessibility for voters with disabilities. This is troubling since, as we emphasized earlier, the drive for telephone and internet voting in Ontario has been most publicly spearheaded by us, from the perspective of the needs of voters with disabilities.

Where the main body of the Report analyzes the benefits of telephone and internet voting in Ontario municipal elections, it focuses on whether they would increase voter turnout, and would be more convenient for voters. Convenience for voters is far less important a concern than accessibility of voting for voters with disabilities. The Report states:

“If we return to public expectations that a network voting solution would be more convenient, just as secure and less cumbersome than our current processes, the experiences of many Ontario municipalities indicate that the benefits of network voting may not be as great as predicted. In order to adhere to our implementation criteria and ensure the integrity of the election, at present, network voting would need to be implemented in a way that required electors to take action in advance and vote via a multi-step process. It is possible that technological, legislative or other changes to current circumstances could reduce these limitations in the future. Until then, a review of Ontario’s municipal experience leads us to believe that while network voting would improve convenience, this would not be to the degree that might be expected.”

* The Report documented positive experience of network voting in Australia focusing on the needs of voters with disabilities. This, almost halfway through the main body of the Report, was the first time Elections Ontario elaborated in any detail on the accessibility needs of voters with disabilities. The Report states:

“In Australia, some of its states have made telephone voting available to specific subgroups of electors, with a focus on electors with disabilities. New South Wales successfully implemented remote internet voting for electors with disabilities, those who live a specific distance from their voting location, and electors who will not be in their district on voting day.

Network voting (internet and telephone) is available in New South Wales in the advance vote period. Electors who are blind or have low vision, who have a disability, who live more than 20 kilometres from their nearest polling place or who will be interstate or overseas on election day can apply and register to vote by internet or telephone until the day before the election. Network voting is not available on election day.

New South Wales’ experience with network voting was a success with the vast majority (91 per cent) of respondents to a post-election survey indicating they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the registration process and 96 per cent of users were either satisfied or very satisfied with the way the system worked when casting their vote.

New South Wales also experienced a larger than anticipated take-up rate for their network voting initiative, since they expanded the eligibility criteria to include people who were outside of the jurisdiction on election day. The table below describes the estimated and observed number of people who used network voting in their 2011 State General Election.

Table 1: Estimated and Observed Take-Up Rate for Network Voting during the New South Wales 2011 State General Election, Number of People

Group Average estimated take-up Observed take-up
Registrations Votes using Network Voting
People who are
blind or vision impaired
7,000 778 668
People with
other disabilities
3,300 1,457 1,296
People in remote,
rural areas
650 1,830 1,643
People outside of
New South Wales
N/A 47,038 43,257
Total
10,950 51,103 46,864

In a survey conducted after the election, a significant percentage of respondents indicated that they believed that network voting eligibility should be extended so that more people could have the choice to use the system. The survey also recommended making the website easier to navigate; making the registration process easier; providing clearer information; fixing technical glitches; and eliminating the paper mail interface. The post-election report on the initiative also recommended enhancing the communications strategy to promote the system to raise awareness, encourage participation and generate familiarity with the technology to overcome reluctance to try new ways of casting a vote.”

* The Report acknowledged in effect that national voting with the option of telephone and internet voting in Estonia has been positive. The Report states: “Estonia provides the most well-known example of the adoption of internet voting worldwide, particularly since it is the first jurisdiction to offer internet voting for its national parliamentary elections. In its 2007 parliamentary election, 30,275 out of 940,000 registered voters cast their ballots via the internet.

The network voting system in Estonia was under development from 2002 until 2004, when the final pilot was held. In 2005, the system was used for the first time for local government council elections. In 2007, it was possible to vote online in parliamentary elections. In 2009, the network voting system was used in the European Parliament elections and the local government council elections.

In Estonia, network voting is meant to supplement, not to replace, the traditional methods of voting, and the idea is to give voters the possibility to vote from the location of their choice, without the necessity of going to the polling station. Network voting takes place during advance polls and government-issued ID-cards are used for voter identification. The voter inserts the ID-card into a card reader and enters the voting website. The card contains two digital certificates: one for identification and another for digital signatures. Therefore, the votes are digitally signed with these certificates in order to provide vote integrity. At the vote count, the voter’s digital signature is removed before decrypting the vote, in order to provide voter privacy. During advance voting, the traditional means of voting (paper ballots) has priority. Therefore, electronic votes can be “overwritten” by paper votes.”

* The Report voices skepticism about the view that telephone and internet voting will increase voter turnout. Yet it relies on data that doesn’t to us, appear to prove that point.

It defies human experience to suggest that if voters are given a quicker and easier option for voting, where they don’t have to travel to a polling station, don’t have to arrange child care, don’t have to find parking, don’t have to wait in line, don’t have to spend as much time in the process, and in the case of voters with disabilities, don’t have to face all the barriers that still exist, no one among the millions of Ontario voters will be more likely to vote.

The true comparison is not whether voter turnout went up or down in successive elections. The true comparison is whether more people vote in an election with telephone and internet voting than would have voted in that same election had there been no telephone and internet voting. By Elections Ontario’s flawed approach, no doubt the recent addition of mail-in ballots must also be viewed as not increasing the likelihood of any voters voting.

TORONTO STAR JUNE 25, 2013

Time to boot up online voting, Ontario elections chief suggests; New option could help reverse drop in voter turnout, despite challenges of verifying identity

Robert Benzie
The Toronto Star , June 25, 2013

The province should test online voting with a pilot project during a by-election down the road, Elections Ontario recommends.

In a two-part, 271-page report to the legislature tabled Monday, chief electoral officer Greg Essensa said it’s time to embrace technological changes in order to encourage more people to vote.

“Voter participation in the electoral process is declining. In the 2011 general election, for the first time, voter participation dropped below 50 per cent, setting a record low for voter turnout in Ontario,” wrote Essensa.

“We need to identify and remove barriers in our processes and procedures that may discourage people from voting.”

Essensa said his weighty study, “Alternative Voting Technologies Report,” will serve as “the framework that we will employ as we move forward on our principled approach to innovation.”

But there are security and technological challenges to online or telephone voting, he concluded after looking at experiences in Australia, Estonia, the U.S., Britain and various Canadian municipalities.

There is “the need for a two-step authentication process, given the lack of a government-issued ID card or digital authentication certificate.”

Essensa said for a pilot project in a by-election, which would cost about $1.75 million, voters could use a driver’s licence as identification.

“While verifying a user’s identity using this form of identification is the best means currently available, it has a direct impact on voters who cannot obtain a driver’s licence,” he wrote.

“While this compromise could be considered acceptable for the pilot, Elections Ontario would need to pursue a more universal form of identification or other personal data for future elections.”

Although there will be at least four by-elections in Ontario in the coming months – in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Ottawa South, London West and Windsor-Tecumseh – it’s unlikely a pilot project could be up and running that soon.

“It will take time and resources to modernize, and potentially introduce a new method of voting, but we have taken the first step by clarifying our approach and defining our implementation criteria,” he wrote, suggesting a pilot project could take place by 2017.

Despite the need for change, Essensa noted that the city of Edmonton’s examination of online voting found there is “no conclusive evidence that shows introducing Internet voting will have a positive impact on turnout … Internet voting will not fix the problem of voter turnout decline completely.”

TORONTO STAR JUNE 26, 2013
Editorial
Time to vote, online

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 that 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 recommended by Essensa.

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 that voter participation in the 2011 Ontario election dropped below 50 per cent, setting a record low. But as the 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 that 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 license 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.