Online voting in Canada: Digital Democracy

Whilst not yet in use at the federal election level, online voting in Canada has been in operation in certain elections for over a decade. In this blog post we take a look at the current online voting landscape in Canada and the likely future trend.

Current Examples of Online Voting in Canada

Elections Canada is the politically neutral, independent body responsible for carrying out (funnily enough) elections in Canada. The organisation states that six Canadian provinces have passed laws allowing certain forms of electronic voting: Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec. Additionally, a number of local municipalities have already starting using online voting for school and municipal board elections. A number of different reasons are cited for going digital, including:

  • the desire to increase voter turnout
  • widening voter access
  • adapting to the increasingly digital lives of the electorate
  • drawing in younger voters

Furthermore, online voting has been used by a number of Indigenous communities in Chief and council elections, as well as being deployed in Prince Edward Island’s 2016 electoral reform plebiscite.

Online Voting at the Federal Level

At this point in time, online voting isn’t permitted in Canadian federal elections. However, the Canadian government published a 2017 report into the potential future viability of online elections at the federal level.

The research draws on case studies of online voting in Estonia, Switzerland and the Unites States. It also reviews the experience of online voting in Canada at the sub-federal level. From the Canadian experience, some of the keys points unearthed by the research were:

  • voters and election administrators were on the whole extremely satisfied with online voting.
  • online voting was the most popular voting procedure in Ontario municipal elections – ahead of paper and telephone voting.
  • voters perceived online voting to be the least risky form of remote voting – ahead of telephone and mail.

From the international experience of online voting, the research highlighted the importance of “slow testing, implementation, research and active collaboration with outside experts, public willingness to vote online, and adoption of online voting as a complementary channel and not a replacement to paper voting.” Moreover, the international experience found “ the need to continually update technology and legislation, the importance of standards especially related to security, and that the adoption of the voting reform depends largely on the culture and institutions of the jurisdiction”.

Towards Online Voting at the Federal Level?

The report concluded that Elections Canada should “actively research and trial online voting in federal elections and lay the groundwork for possible future development”. Subsequently, the report made various policy recommendations to support the implementation of online voting in federal elections. They suggest an incremental approach staggered over both the short and long term. All of this suggests a desire and willingness at the federal level to embrace online voting. Just how long the shift to digital democracy takes, however, remains to be seen.