Election primer: online voting

Cathy Dobson

There are two kinds of voters in Sarnia and Point Edward: those who support electronic voting and those who don’t.

For the first time, city and village residents will vote remotely without using paper ballots in the Oct. 22 municipal election.

Supporters say it will make voting more accessible, more environmentally-friendly, and could increase voter turnout. Only 37% voted in Sarnia in 2014 and 38.7% in Point Edward.

Detractors worry that electronic voting is less secure and less accessible.

Municipal officials say they recognize there’s a lot of public education to do before voting commences Oct. 11 at 9 a.m. There will be 11 full days to vote online 24/7, not just the typical one-day election. Voting ends at 8 p.m. Oct. 22.

Everyone should vote early in case they have difficulty, says Sarnia’s deputy clerk James Jenkins. That way, if they run into trouble, they can go to one of four voter help centres in Sarnia, or to the Point Edward municipal office, for assistance in a private setting. Tablets will be provided at the centres and a trained employee will help if the prompts aren’t clear.

Election workers will also visit every retirement, nursing home and the hospital to assist and provide tablets for voting.

A total of 185 of Ontario’s 444 municipalities have moved exclusively to internet and phone voting this year, in part because the tabulator software used to count paper ballots is no longer available.

“Based on the experience of other municipalities, internet voting tends to have a neutral or positive impact on voter turnout,” Jenkins said. “We hope anyone who has a problem, will go to a Voter Help Centre.”

He and other city hall staff are holding public information sessions about electronic voting. They recently spoke to about 60 gathered for a Sarnia-Lambton Golden K meeting at the Lochiel Kiwanis Centre.

Security is one of the top concerns at the sessions, according to Jenkins.

“There are a number of features to prevent hacking,” he said. “We can see if you voted but not how you voted.”

Ballots are encrypted to prevent interception or modification. “So once you’ve sent your vote, no one can decipher it.”

The system has a number of firewalls to prevent attacks and the Lambton County IT department will be casting dummy votes that don’t count in order to verify that everything is working correctly.

As an additional precaution, the City of Sarnia has hired another third party to conduct a technical audit, again ensuring the system is secure from external threat.

“That’s not something we had to do. It’s something we chose to do in Sarnia,” said Jenkins. He estimated the additional layer of security will cost between $20,000 and $30,000.

Nova Scotia-based Intelivote is hired by Sarnia, Point Edward and 101 other Ontario municipalities to conduct online voting this fall.

The company not only provides the servers for the election, it also guards against computer malfunction by replicating the data on another server so that if there’s equipment malfunction, forensic teams can determine what happened and if voter data was compromised.

Once Intelivote is paid, Jenkins believes the cost of an online election will be about $230,000, approximately the same as an election on paper.

One Golden K member wanted to know what will happen if a candidate demands a recount.

“In paper elections, a recount usually results in different results,” said Jenkins. That’s because human error and differing interpretations of the marks on a ballot are possible.

“By contrast, an electronic voting system will always interpret the intent of the voters in the same way.

“A recount for internet/telephone voting will always produce the same results.”

Jenkins is hosting two more information sessions at Sarnia city hall on Wednesday, Sept. 19 at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. In Point Edward, info sessions are scheduled for Sept. 26 at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. at the municipal office.

 

YOUR ONLINE VOTING PRIMER:

–         Everyone on the voters list will receive a voter instruction letter from the federal government in the mail, containing a 16-digit pin and the address for the online voting portal.

–         A computer, cell phone, iPad, tablet or laptop with an Internet connection will work.

–         A list of candidates will appear just as it would on a paper ballot.

–         It’s possible to change your selections before confirming your vote.

–         Once you click “confirm,” your vote is cast and cannot be changed.

–         If you hang up or are disconnected, you can go back to where you left off.

–         If you are not on the voters list, if you lost your PIN, or run into technical difficulty, go to a Voter Help Centre at City Hall, Clearwater Arena, Bright’s Grove Public School or St. Pat’s High School.

–        To vote by telephone, call the number provided in your letter and log in using your PIN. Verify your identity with your date of birth. Follow the prompts as the system tells you what number to use that corresponds with the candidate of your choice. An electronic voice will verify who you’ve chosen before you confirm your vote.

–         For more details, visithttp://www.city.sarnia.on.ca/city-government/elections/2018-municipal-election or http://www.villageofpointedward.com/2018-election/.

–        Note that in Point Edward, Voter Help Centres will be located at the municipal office on Kendall (Oct. 11 – 21) and the Monk Street Community Hall on Oct. 22.