This column appeared in today’s edition of the Saint City News.
We have a wonderful thing in Canada: a democratic system in which we can have confidence.
Our next-door neighbours in the United States can’t make this boast. There are strong reasons to suspect the results of both the 2000 and 2004 U.S. presidential elections were strongly influenced by fraud, if not actually stolen.
But no matter how mad it makes me when Canadians elect governments I personally don’t approve of, it’s impossible to make a case they didn’t actually mark their ballots that way once they got inside the voting booth.
What’s the difference between the two countries? Two things: electronic voting and paper ballots.
The United States has electronic voting machines, and you can’t trust their paperless results. Canada counts federal and provincial votes on paper ballots, and you can trust the numbers.
If there’s evidence of voter fraud in Canada, or if an election is “too close to call,” you’ve got actual ballots to recount. If you don’t believe the first recount, or there’s a dispute over which ballots were properly marked, you can get an impartial and independent judge to oversee the recounting. Scrutineers for all candidates can watch the counting, and yell if they feel anything is amiss. Voters may vote as they please, without father, husband or big brother peering over their shoulder.
Ultimately, while there is plenty partisans can do to influence Canadian elections in questionable ways, citizens at least can trust the results of the count.
That’s why my blood ran cold recently when I saw in the media that Elections Canada is considering adopting “Internet voting.” More than considering it – “hiring resources, developing a timeline and researching e-voting experiences over the Internet,” one story said. A plan is afoot to try “e-voting” in a by-election in 2013, then introduce it more generally after that.
Do you feel good about this scheme? You shouldn’t. If you’re uncomfortable trusting your Visa or Mastercard number to Internet security, why would you trust something as precious as your democratic franchise?
If you have confidence in the technology – guess again. Voting machines are bad enough, but Internet voting was made for hacking because data must be transferred electronically over vulnerable phone and cable lines. Moreover, voting outside polling places opens the floodgates to votes being coerced, bought, or just stolen while Grandma sleeps. Insecure home and laptop personal computers make the system even more vulnerable.
What’s the reason for this scheme? It can’t be speed or efficiency, because accurate initial counts at polling stations are very quick in Canada. As anyone who watches election night TV coverage knows, full results are usually posted less than hour after the last poll closes.
We’re told e-voting will encourage computer-savvy young people to vote, and get a larger percentage of the populace to participate by making it easy for them to cast their ballots without getting off their duffs.
Sorry, but that dog won’t hunt. One of the reasons young people don’t vote is because they cynically suspect their votes don’t really make much difference. If that’s true now with a voting system we can trust, imagine what it will be like with a system designed to encourage election theft, bullying and vote buying!
The system we have may not be perfect, but it won’t be fixed by introducing changes that can break it wide open. Indeed, if Quebec had used Internet voting in 1995, Canada would be two countries today.
I can think of only two good reasons to support Internet voting in Canada: Either you stand to make money by selling the software, or you want to steal an election!
This is a bad idea. We need to stop it right now.