premature e-tabulation

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In an advanced notice of proposed procurement for Electronic Polls issued back in March, Elections Canada stated that they have no plans to introduce electronic casting or counting of votes due to the fact that there has yet to be an implementation of an EPB solution at the scale required to support Elections Canada’s needs.

Ontario does not permit the use of Internet voting in provincial elections. A three-year study of “network voting” concluded in 2013 that “At this point, we do not have a viable method of network voting that meets our criteria and protects the integrity of the electoral process.”

In the face of all this, 3 members of Aurora council feel it is “the time” for internet voting because, well Markham does it.

Want to know something else Markham does that Aurora doesn’t?

Clear fucking garbage bags.

Clr. Mrakas writes that he is disappointed in the majority of council’s decision on this issue.

I’m not.

In fact I applaud Clr. Thom for bringing to the table significant details that were conspicuously absent in the staff report.

Over on the livinginaurora.com site Anna asks “How would the report be received if it appeared to be contradictory or indecisive?

I would assume critically.

Staff reports must be based on supporting information, but they cannot simply flaunt all the pros and turn a blind eye to the cons for what they are recommending.

And with something internet voting, there are no shortage of cons to weigh into the decision making process.

This issue boils down to 3 major arguments:

#1 – Internet voting will bring Aurora in line with other municipalities.

If Markham and Newmarket are doing it shouldn’t Aurora just go with the crowd?

In 2014 only 97 municipalities entertained internet voting, that’s a mere 22%.  Let’s pretend that number doubles for the 2018 election that’s still only around 50% of municipalities, not exactly a convincing number.

What the staff report neglects to mention the fact that neither technology savvy Waterloo nor Toronto have adopted internet voting.  In the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee meeting from December 1st, 2016 we learn:

This report also advises that there have been insufficient advances in Internet security to accept the risks of implementing Internet voting for the 2018 general election. The challenges identified by both City staff and security experts in 2014 remain unresolved. Internet voting continues to be vulnerable to security threats and attacks while raising concerns about secrecy of the vote, verifiability and overall election integrity.

This brings us to argument # 2

#2. – Security Risks

Surely by 2017 they have worked out all the kinks to develop a secure voting system, right? If I can shop and bank online, why can’t I vote online?

David Jefferson dismissed that analogy well in his 2011 piece in two parts:

1. It is not actually “safe” to conduct ecommerce transactions online. It is in fact very risky, more so every day, and essentially all those risks apply equally to online voting transactions.

2. The technical security, privacy, and transparency requirements for voting are structurally different from, and much more stringent than, those for ecommerce transactions. Even if ecommerce transactions were safe, the security technology underpinning them would not suffice for voting. In particular, the security and privacy requirements for voting are unique and in tension in a way that has no analog in the ecommerce world.

So when Clr. Mrakas uses words like “continued to develop” and “some products have the capability” it doesn’t fill me with confidence that Aurora is in a position to deploy an internet voting solution that protects the integrity of the electoral process.

Hell, the report don’t even list out criteria that a solutions provider would have to meet.

 

Reconcile that with the provincial perspective:

We recognize the risks of ceding full control to a vendor and realized Elections Ontario’s responsibility to manage potential technology vendors appropriately to prevent those risks from becoming a reality. Part of the risk mitigation would be to ensure proper stress testing and planning. To assist with the management of vendors, common standards may be appropriate to ensure that any technology that is introduced to Ontario’s voting process meets consistent and clearly articulated expectations that are aligned to our implementation criteria.

And that of Elections Canada:

Security remains a major factor to be addressed through all service delivery processes and solution components. The baseline security control profile will be provided based upon the controls and methodologies from the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) guidance document: ITSG-33, IT Security Risk Management: A Lifecycle Approach.

The successful contractor will be required to meet Government of Canada requirements for the security screening of their organization, facilities, and personnel.

The Toronto report concludes that Internet voting is used by a substantial number (I believe 97) of municipalities in Ontario, for which:

  • they have limited in-house IT capacity and expertise
  • they have not conducted any public computer scientist review of the systems (unlike Toronto)
  • they are all using private, third-party, for-profit companies as the Internet voting providers (i.e. they procure Internet voting, as if it were any other kind of customer service)

If only one of these were true it would nullify the argument that it’s “time for internet voting” in Aurora.

All 3 are true.

#3 – Opportunity to increase voter turnout

Clr. Mrakas states that “Many other communities have implemented internet voting and have seen a marked increase in voter turnout”

Okay, so which ones and how have these municipalities attributed the increase in voter turnout as a direct relation to internet voting?

If we were to believe Canada’s leading supplier, of eVoting election services at face value apparently Ajax reportedly enjoyed a 20% increase in voter turnout in their 2014 election with 92% of the voters using the web.

Data from the 2013 City of Guelph Survey finds some support to suggest the introduction of an Internet voting option may improve electoral participation, but this information should by no means be taken as a certainty that an increase would occur.

It goes on to state that:

the introduction of these voting methods are by no means a guarantee that there will be a positive impact on voter participation and such structural changes will not be a panacea for voter apathy

The Globe & Mail reports that evidence from the City of Markham shows that in 2003, when online voting was first made available, 25% of Internet voters had been eligible to vote previously but reported not doing so.

Sound good, until you read page 17 of Elections Onatrio’s comprehensive review that states the academic literature supports Markham’s experience in suggesting that there are inconclusive results about the impact of network voting on voter turnout.

Voter turnout is influenced by a number of factors, many which are difficult to
quantify. These include, for example, the competitiveness of the election,
candidate campaign mobilization efforts, issues at stake, voter fatigue, and theweather, among other elements that may vary from one election to the next in the same jurisdiction.

Elections Canada concluded that across the board, positive impact on participation turned out to be negligible.

# 4 – Increased access

Internet voting will provide “far greater” access, and allow a “far greater number of residents to exercise their right to vote” right?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

 

Michael McGregor, an assistant professor who studies Canadian political behavior at Bishop’s University in Quebec says it’s not increasing turnout, it’s just people who are already voting.

I’m also wondering how accessible such a system is when it fails.

Because it does, and has.

Elections Ontario stated on page 18 while there were high levels of satisfaction among those who administered network voting, a total of 33 municipalities experienced system delays on election day when servers became overloaded due to hardware problems and higher than-expected levels of access by election candidates.

33 of 97 Municipalities represents 34%

Electors in these municipalities were delayed in casting their votes. In some cases, voting hours were extended by an hour in order to compensate for the lost time; at least one municipality extended voting for a full day.

WTF?

There’s an important distinction to be made between getting things done and doing them right.

Providing an exceptional quality of life requires the latter and Internet voting does nothing to support it.

 

 

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