With a continual decline in voter turnout in recent years (the last federal election notwithstanding but also not great cause for hope), reformers are turning increasingly to technology as a means to encourage civic participation.
By technology I do not mean using the internet to campaign through Facebook or Twitter. I mean using computerized voting machines instead of paper ballots in recent municipal elections and floating the idea of allowing online voting in elections.
Before such advances meet the public in large-scale national elections, they tend to first find their way through political parties who try to increase their own membership and membership retention by providing innovative ways for those members to give feedback and affect decisions within the party.
The Liberal Party proposed looking into an online option for voting in federal elections in their last election platform. They also unveiled that platform live on the internet, allowing Canadians to chat online as the process unfolded. Today, the party held a convention that allowed for phone-in voting, using a central location to coordinate the technology that allowed party members to vote within the comfort of their own homes (or wherever they decided to take the call from).
Liberal Extraordinary Convention
The convention, held over the phone, lasted just under 3 hours, had a complete agenda and several rounds of voting and debate on two measures to be adopted (along with sub-amendments provided by Liberal Party members).
While some experienced glitches in the beginning the event ran fairly smoothly. For a blow by blow account of it, you can view a live blog at New Liberal. After experiencing this different way of voting and participating within the party, I think it is a model that should continue to be adopted to lower costs for the average party member ($20 cost to participate in this case) and to include a wider variety of voices from the party all across the nation instead of hearing from only those whose presence is geographically possible.
The Future of Technology in Canadian Politics
I do think new methods are needed to bring out civic interest in current and future generations but I also believe that if and when internet voting, for example, is introduced it must have been rigorously tested so that it may be optimally implemented. The Liberal Party of Canada is taking a step in the right direction by modernizing itself. I have previously argued against the use of internet voting and feel that the reasons for my opposition are still valid. However, some time ago I changed my mind and my experience today as further supported that change of heart.
I still believe that the biggest barrier people face when it comes to voting is not getting to the polling station but their own disinterest in taking a few minutes to seriously weigh their options to make an informed decision. Voting online would not change this. Additionally, I still maintain that the security of the ballot is not protected in online voting because anyone can take a person’s pin (no personal identification beyond this is required) and use it themselves or even coerce someone while they are voting because there is no one to monitor the process. I also still believe that when it comes down to it, no matter what protective systems are put in place, nothing you do online is safe. Any information you submit online can be hacked and that is simply reality. And finally, I still believe that the lack of a paper trail after one has voted leaves the entire process open to fraud.
On the first issue, perhaps if the process itself is made easier by putting it online voters will feel that actually researching their options is less arduous because voting afterwards is so easy. The security of the ballot is also questionable in mail-in votes as well as in situations of newly-registered voters voting in their riding. ID is not required in the first case, one must only intercept the ballot. And in the second case, one must only produce identification and mail with an address within the riding with the corresponding name on it to register to vote in that riding. Mail with false addresses is easy enough to produce. As for coercion, some voters already allow this themselves by blindly adopting the position of a spouse or parent and it is not unheard of for politicians and parties to engage in negative campaigning that ultimately keeps those who don’t support them home out of sheer disgust.
Online voting certainly has its drawbacks but our system as it stands is not flawless. In the end I feel the increased use of technology in elections while not necessarily inherently a good idea is at least worth considering.