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Leaping into uncharted territory with electronic voting

['Commentary with Geoff deGannes']
['Commentary with Geoff deGannes']

Commentary with Geoff deGannes

In an age of rapidly advancing technology, you would think the use of electronic voting would have become commonplace in our electoral process at all levels of government by now. And yet there remains a reluctance on the part of many to embrace it. 

Electronic voting technology is certainly not new ... it has been in place since the early 1990s and a number of Canadian municipalities have used various forms of it. Elections Canada suggests allowing Canadians to vote electronically may be the remedy for the ever-dwindling percentage of voters who bother to exercise their democratic rights.

At long last, the Town of Amherst may be set to move out of the dark ages and accept the electronic system in some form in time for the 2020 municipal elections. You’ll recall the former town council voted for the status quo relying solely on the traditional method of casting a paper ballot.

The current council, at its February regular council session, passed first reading of the Alternative Voting Bylaw, which would enable citizens to vote through the internet or via the phone during an extended advanced polling period during the 2020 municipal election.

Traditional paper ballots would still be used on election day.

The bylaw must go through a second reading before it becomes law.

Admittedly, there is still a lot to be said for the old-fashioned approach of taking the time out of your day to head off to your polling station and marking your X on that ballot. After all, shouldn’t something as important as exercising our franchise demand a little time and commitment on our part? 

As Elections Canada indicates, one of the fears with electronic voting is the concern about the disintegration of social capital or civic life. The proliferation of electronic election services has the power, some say, to alter the nature of electoral participation by causing more electors to vote alone instead of at a polling place with others.

Many Canadians also remain skeptical about the security of the internet and telephone from possible fraud and there are still questions about public confidence and trust in such a system. 

That being said, the changing face of the electorate isn’t buying into what they see as an antiquated system and the option of electronic voting is certainly seen as a way of engaging those voters who are the hardest to reach, particularly young people ages 18 to 30. They are the ones most familiar with the technology and most likely to benefit from it. It would prove particularly helpful for persons with disabilities and mobility issues including the visually and hearing impaired who could cast their ballot unassisted while respecting the privacy of their vote. 

While some elected officials may be hesitant about taking that leap forward into uncharted territory, any steps that can be taken to enhance accessibility and create more participatory opportunities for voters should be welcomed. It’s not about doing away with our traditional voting process, but rather providing more options to improve upon a system that isn’t meeting its full potential.

Geoff deGannes is the past chairman of the Tantramar Radio Society. His daily commentaries can be heard on 107.9 CFTA.

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