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Toronto Star Column Argues in Support of On-Line Voting in Upcoming Ontario By-elections- We Agree!

But Elections Ontario Doesn’t Get It
July 23, 2013

SUMMARY

The July 23, 2013 edition of the Toronto Star includes a compelling column by the Star’s widely-respected Queen’s park columnist Martin Regg Cohn on telephone and internet voting. The Star column is set out below.

The excellent column argues that Ontario voters should have been given a chance to use telephone and internet voting in the five August 1, 2013 by-elections around the province. Elections Ontario’s refusal to deploy that accessible voting technology blocked voters from having this option.

Key points in the Star column include:

* Our current system for voting is broken and needs to be improved. The Star column says “the disabled vote… is being truly suppressed (due to inaccessible facilities).”

* People pay bills, pay taxes, bank, and shop on-line. Why not have the option to vote the same way?

* If voters could vote by phone or over the internet, more people could end up voting than is now the case if they have to trek to a polling station, find parking or transit, wait in line and vote there.

* Three years ago, the Ontario Legislature assigned Elections Ontario to be ready to test on-line voting in a by-election. These summer 2013 by-elections would have been an ideal testing ground. Yet Elections Ontario seems to be moving slowly, and to be “stuck in dial-up mode.”

* Many of Elections Ontario’s concerns about on-line voting apply equally to mail-in ballots that Ontario now tolerates.

* Forty-four Ontario municipalities used on-line voting of some sort in the 2010 municipal elections.

* Elections Ontario remains sluggishly behind the times in its foot-dragging on this way to make voting far more accessible to voters.

The AODA Alliance has been in the lead in Ontario in campaigning for telephone and internet voting. We have made similar points to those that Martin Regg Cohn presents, in our effort to win telephone and internet voting for voters with disabilities, and indeed, as an option for all Ontario voters. You can see us making these and other points in the AODA Alliance’s analysis of Elections Ontario’s June 24, 2013 troubling report on telephone and internet voting, publicly available at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/06272013.asp We conclude that Election Ontario’s report on telephone and internet voting is a slap in the face to Ontario voters with disabilities.

We add that Elections Ontario has rejected telephone and internet voting for the present and the undefined future, but has offered no other avenue for making the voting process fully accessible to all voters with disabilities. After fully three years of studying telephone and internet voting, Elections Ontario proposes only to continue with yet more study of telephone and internet voting, with no timelines or end date in sight. Our long and arduous campaign to make voting accessible in Ontario for voters with disabilities is documented in part at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/ElectionInOntario.asp

In other accessibility news, an excessive 53 days have passed since the legal deadline for the Ontario Government to appoint an Independent Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The Government is still violating that law. It is thereby continuing to set a terrible example for other organizations that have to obey that law. You can read our May 31, 2013, guest column in the on-line edition of the Toronto Star on the Government’s failure to appoint an Independent Review of the Disabilities Act by the May 31, 2013, deadline by visiting http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/05312013.asp

As well, an unjustified 181 days have passed since we wrote the Ontario Government to ask for its plans to keep its pledge to effectively enforce the AODA. We have received no substantive public response to that inquiry. To learn more about our request for the Ontario Government’s plans to enforce the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, visit http://is.gd/XdwlVG

We urge you to send us your feedback. Write us at aodafeedback@gmail.com

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*****

Toronto Star July 23, 2013

Online voting could be the answer to poor voter turnout

Martin Regg Cohn
The Toronto Star , July 23, 2013

If you believe what you read in the papers, you might think the top-of-mind issue in the five provincial byelections this Aug. 1 is . . . the weather.

Not those cancelled power plants. Not an ailing economy. Not our soaring debt.

None of the above.

No, the No. 1 issue, according to my newspaper clippings: How that incorrigibly crafty, cunning Liberal government conspired to call the byelections for Aug. 1 – smack dab in the dead of summer. The dog days of summer. The hot, lazy days of summer.

“Voter suppression,” came the anguished cry in the aftermath of the byelection announcement. The allegation from our overheated opposition parties, and the overzealous watchdogs at Democracy Watch: Ontarians are so busy summering they can’t possibly vote – which makes the government guilty of supposedly suppressing their rights.

Sadly, I don’t own a cottage, chateau, chalet, dacha or country estate.

Happily, I could cast my ballot free from the burdens of cottage ownership, government repression or voter suppression.

But many people won’t, for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with civic virtue, and everything to do with time. Not election timing, but lack of time. Consider how our last general election, on a fine fall day in October 2011, generated the worst-ever turnout in Ontario’s democratic history – dipping below 50 per cent of eligible voters.

There is no magic remedy for our ailing democracy. Not proportional representation, not electronic runoffs, not even online voting.

But the last option – Internet voting – is our best hope for slowing the decline, or possibly reversing it.

Online’s time has come. We live in an era of just-in-time delivery, 24/7 convenience stores, Sunday shopping, Saturday banking and online transactions. Even if PayPal isn’t your best friend, you likely pay your bills online. People sell stocks online, order their licence plates online, and pay their taxes to the Canada Revenue Agency online – in real time.

It’s only a matter of time before our politicians and the voting public – what’s left of it – log on to Internet elections.

There will always be security concerns – rigging, hacking and system failures. But the reality is that our electoral system is already failing us.

It’s not just the overall turnout that’s dropping, but the youth vote that’s plummeting, and the disabled vote that is being truly suppressed (due to inaccessible facilities).

Older voters can complain all they want about the lack of engagement among some younger voters, but perhaps our youth are merely ahead of the times. Lining up to vote in church basements and school gymnasiums is the way of the past, not the future.

Elections Ontario has admitted as much in a report published on the eve of the summer byelections. Local school boards are increasingly nervous about security, and costs are rising rapidly for central voting locations. Recruiting and retraining election day staff is becoming a logistical nightmare.

“Although our current voting processes have served us well in the past, they are becoming increasingly difficult to sustain and administer,” acknowledged Greg Essensa, Ontario’s chief electoral officer.

But he is hardly moving at warp speed to embrace the future. Asked and tasked by the legislature three years ago to ramp up an online voting pilot project in time for a byelection – this summer would have been an ideal testing ground – Essensa seems stuck in dial-up mode.

Elections Ontario is now promising to experiment in a future byelection, and no one should minimize Internet risks. But most examples of technological problems date from a decade ago. Many of the concerns about identification apply equally to mail-in ballots that we tolerate today.

Internet voting – with strong identification provisions – has been tried successfully as far away as Australia and as close to home as Markham and Stratford.

Some 44 municipalities went online in some way at election time across Ontario in 2010.

Remember when bank tellers updated your paper passbook? How much longer until Ontario updates its own paper ballots, and gives voters – young and old, able-bodied and disabled – the opportunity to vote at a time and place that makes sense for their just-in-time lives?

Never mind all that overheated rhetoric about voter suppression in our mid-summer byelections.

The longer we keep elections offline, the more we are depressing the turnout – and truly suppressing our democratic potential.

Martin Regg Cohn’s provincial affairs column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. mcohn@thestar.ca, Twitter: @reggcohn