Many Ontario municipalities use online voting despite lack of provincial standards


More Ontario municipalities are using online voting in municipal elections this month than in 2018, despite a lack of provincial standards on how to conduct it.

The province’s Municipal Elections Act allows municipalities to choose to use methods other than voting at the ballot box — such as online, telephone and mail-in ballots — if a council passes a bylaw. City clerks are then responsible for establishing the procedures.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario says there will be 417 municipal elections in the province on October 24, and more than half – 217 – have decided to use online or telephone voting. This is an increase from 175 municipalities four years ago.

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Aleksander Essex, an associate professor at Western University who specializes in cybersecurity and studies online voting, says the lack of provincial standards is concerning because it means it’s up to city councils to contract vendors and decide which technology to use.

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“There has to be some kind of consistency and accountability for these kinds of decisions,” he said in an interview.

“At some point, this will have to be a point of contention where we have to somehow recognize that these (online) elections are ‘real elections’ and as such should be subject to some kind of democratic standards. basic.”

Essex also runs Whisper Lab, a cybersecurity research group at Western, and says his team has been studying online voting since 2018. Using publicly available data, he said he found that safeguards for the secrecy of the vote, voter privacy and online voting transparency are not always as strong as they should be.

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However, he said the most concerning issue is the lack of evidence to support the fact that election results reflect ballots that were actually cast, as candidates and their representatives cannot, in many cases , observe the counting of electronic votes.

“For us to believe (in the outcome of the election), we shouldn’t have to rely on this third-party company. We should have evidence – independent, specific evidence – to support a total vote.

A spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs did not say whether the government plans to introduce provincial standards for online voting.

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“The ministry reviews the municipal election process after each regular municipal election to ensure it continues to meet the needs of Ontario communities,” Conrad Spezowka said in a statement.

Online voting caused other problems in the last provincial municipal elections.


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In 2018, a major online voting issue forced more than 50 communities to extend municipal voting hours. Denver, Colo.-based Dominion Voting Systems, which provided the electronic voting service to municipalities, accused a Toronto-based limited company of limiting inbound online voting traffic.

Neither that nor the lack of provincial standards deterred communities from using this method of voting this time around. Some offer a combination of paper ballots and online voting, including Thunder Bay Kingston, Markham, Vaughan, Sarnia and Brantford.

Others proceed entirely without ballot boxes. Barrie, Belleville, Brockville, Kenora and Kawartha Lakes — along with dozens of other cities and townships — only offer online and telephone voting.

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Wendy Cooke, Barrie’s city clerk, said the community north of Toronto decided to go this route after successfully testing a touchscreen version of voting in a 2020 city council by-election.

“It’s an accessible form of voting. It allows people to vote 24/7. It is very easy to use,” she said.

The city will have 10 voting assistance centers for residents who need help using technology.


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Cooke said the city sent a single-use voter ID number to all registered voters to use along with other voting IDs such as their date of birth.

Cooke said the city’s election team is finalizing a process for candidates to go to City Hall to view reports of vote totals at any time to ensure a high level of transparency.

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Many municipalities offering online voting, including Barrie, have also hired companies to verify their elections.

Stephen O’Brien, vice-president of the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario, said some small communities are getting creative with this.

“We’ve seen other municipalities, sometimes smaller municipalities that maybe didn’t have the individual resources to be able to offer this, come together and pool their resources to be able to audit the system,” he said. declared.

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However, not all cities are adopting online voting. The City of Toronto does not offer this option to voters, citing security and accessibility issues, although it is using mail-in ballots for the first time.

O’Brien, who is also city clerk for Guelph, said council there decided not to use online voting this time around either.

“There are risks that we face as a society in the number of virtual or digital interactions that we have,” he said. “I think the city council considered those here in Guelph.”

© 2022 The Canadian Press

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