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Woolwich to go with electronic voting in 2018

Woolwich residents will be voting electronically – online or by telephone – when they go to the polls in next year’s municipal election.

Deeming the technology safe enough, Woolwich council formally approved the shift Tuesday night.

Traditional paper ballots will be replaced by an electronic service to be provided by Dominion Voting. Those unable or unwilling to vote from a device or telephone will be able to attend a voting site to use equipment provided by the township.

Pushing for the change, township clerk Val Hummel said measures will be in place to ensure everyone has a chance to vote, playing up the accessibility angle.

“No portion of our population will be closed off with an election process,” she said.

Very limited feedback from the public, most of it actively solicited online, was largely positive, she said in a presentation to council.

The shift to e-voting was pushed by Stephen Beamish, regional sales manager for Dominion Voting, who touted the advantages and security of the company’s services.

The process has all of the same checks and balances of the traditional registering for and compiling a voters list and securing against tampering and fraud, he stressed.

Addressing another concern, he said the software can’t tie a voter to a specific electronic ballot, meaning votes remain anonymous.

In the event of a close race and a recount, the process would be done electronically again, but the system has the ability to print out a paper record of each vote cast.

Responding to a question from Coun. Larry Shantz, Beamish said voters can effectively spoil a ballot by submitting a blank form.

While the majority of councillors were swayed – the final vote was 4-1, with Coun. Patrick Merlihan the lone dissenter – local resident Dr. Mark Yaniszewksi, a political science lecturer, remained unconvinced.

“A move to Internet voting would be a mistake,” he told councillors, noting studies have shown that electronic voting doesn’t deliver what proponents tout, while posing risks, particularly to security.

“Most of the promised benefits of online voting have not materialized,” he said. “Higher voter turnout? Is it true? The answer for most groups is no,” he said, noting that includes younger voters, as a British Columbia study found they were the least likely to vote electronically.

Computer fraud and errors are the biggest concerns, said Yaniszewksi, as there is no paper trail to fall back on.

“It is too easy for the system to fail.”

He dismissed comparisons to online shopping, noting some of the largest companies have been hacked. Also, consumers have many ways to ensure their online transaction was completed satisfactorily, most notably the arrival of the ordered goods. That’s not true of online voting, where there is no way of ensuring your vote has been registered as cast.

Shopping is one thing, but for voting, the systems today aren’t sufficiently safe, he maintained.

Councillors appeared ready to embrace the technology, however.

“I think it’s time to move forward,” said Shantz. “Anything that makes it easier … will help.”

While electronic voting is slightly more expensive than the direct costs of traditional polling stations and ballots – $32,000 versus $28,000 – the overall costs of holding an election are expected to be similar at about $75,000.

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