Proceed with utmost caution on electronic voting

Electronic voting has advantages, but the integrity of one person, one vote must be respected.

The provincial government has asked Elections BC to look more thoroughly into electronic voting.

While this makes a great deal of sense, given how much business can be easily transacted on computers, it is important not to jump into the deep end.

This is because voting is a privilege in a democratic society, or at least needs to be treated as such. Many people in various parts of thje world do not have the opportunity to vote. In many cases when they do, the system is rigged.

It would be foolish to think that our system cannot be rigged. Political parties and their most avid supporters know no bounds when it comes to trying to work the system to their advantage. When there are opprtuinities to stack a vote,  they will do so if there is little fear of consequences.

Take a look at recent one-member, one-vote leadership selections by both the NDP and the BC Liberals. In the case of the NDP,  eventual winner Adrian Dix’s campaign flooded the office of the provincial party with last-minute member sign-ups, in most cases without attached payment. The payments were then attached to the membership forms at the office, in contravantion of party rules, but there was no enforcement of the rule.

In the case of the Liberals, PIN numbers provided to party members so they could vote online or by telephone did not all arrive on time. There were delays for some members in being able to vote, and undoubtedly some members did not get the chance to cast a ballot because of the mix-up.

If there is to be online voting, everyone must have the ability to vote. Security needs to be paramount. One of the great advantages of the current system is that people must show up in person to vote. Thus they need to be able to prove who they are, and it is very difficult to vote more than once.

If PIN numbers were given out for voting purposes, it wouldn’t be hard for one active political family member to collect several from less interested family members, and vote multiple times. IP addresses of computers cannot be used to block that — it’s easy to use more than one IP address, and in many cases, several members of one family use the same computer.

Online voting has been used in a few municipal elections in Canada, and the claim is that it boosts turnout. It may well do so, but what potential voters in municipal elections really need is an ability to gather information about candidates easily. That’s why The Times provided online videos of candidates in last fall’s municipal elections, and almost all candidates took part. It was a free service to them (and voters).

Voter turnout did go up in Langley Township, and the videos helped, but the biggest boost came from the fact that there was a three-way contest for mayor. When there is a close race, or a big issue at stake, people will come out and vote.

Online voting should be examined as a possible tool, but it should only be put in place if there are even more safeguards than there are in our current system. As a society, we must stand on guard against possible manipulations of the electoral system.

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