Online voting doesn’t increase turnout

I wish I didn’t have to say this again and again, but I do.  Here’s what I wrote for the New Brunswick consultation

The City of Kitchener’s 2012 report on Internet voting finds that “There is clear evidence that, regardless of geography internet voting does not attract younger voters.” (Gosse, 2012) Similarly, the 2014 BC Independent Panel on Internet Voting finds in their report that “research suggests that Internet voting does not generally cause nonvoters to vote. Instead, Internet voting is mostly used as a tool of convenience for individuals who have already decided to vote.” (Archer, Beznosov, Crane, King, & Morfitt, 2014)

The paper “Reducing the Cost of Voting: An Empirical Evaluation of Internet Voting’s Effect on Local Elections” by Nichole Goodman and Leah Stokes reviews extensive evidence from online voting in Ontario municipalities and finds that “internet voting is unlikely to solve the low turnout crisis”. (Goodman & Stokes, 2016) A recent demonstration of the reality of Internet voting turnout was the 2016 Prince Edward Island Plebiscite on Democratic Renewal which had 10 days of online voting in addition to two days of in-person voting. Not only was the overall turnout low at 36.5%, but the turnout for ages 18-24 was the lowest of any age range, at 25.47%. (McLeod, 2016)

Gosse, R. (2012, December 10). FCS-12- 191 – Alternate Voting – Internet Voting. Retrieved from City of Kitchener – Laserfiche WebLink: https://lf.kitchener.ca/WebLinkExt/DocView.aspx?id=1235356&dbid=0

Archer, K., Beznosov, K., Crane, L.-A., King, V., & Morfitt, G. (2014, February 12). Recommendations Report to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. Retrieved from British Columbia Independent Panel on Internet Voting: http://www.internetvotingpanel.ca/docs/recommendations-report.pdf

Goodman, N., & Stokes, L. C. (2016, October 6). Reducing the Cost of Voting: An Empirical Evaluation of Internet Voting’s Effect on Local Elections. Retrieved from Social Science Research Network (SSRN): https://ssrn.com/abstract=2849167

McLeod, G. B. (2016, November 9). Interim Report of the Chief Electoral Officer for the 2016 Plebiscite on Democratic Renewal. Retrieved from Elections Prince Edward Island: http://www.gov.pe.ca/photos/original/elec_demrefpleb.pdf

But there’s more, much more than that.
Halifax has online voting. Turnout dropped by more than 10,000 in the 2016 Halifax election.

In the last municipal election in 2012, 66,272 people voted by e-vote and phone (22.2 per cent of the entire vote). At the close of e-voting Thursday, the HRM registered 55,788 electronic and telephone votes.

Evidence again and again shows that online voting does not increase participation, by youth or by any voting group.  All that happens is that (mostly middle-aged) people who would have voted at a polling station anyway vote online.
Evidence:

Young ontario voters (aged 18-24) more likely to use paper ballots than internet voting

above from Internet Voting Project Twitter – https://twitter.com/ivotingproject/status/660551650000699392 – 31 October 2015

  1. 3.100  Advocates also cite current Estonian and Swiss internet voting as improving equality and voter turnout, convenience and timely vote counting. However, these examples have either been consistently undermined in security analyses (in the case of Estonia) or have not been proven in a general election (in the case of Switzerland).

above from Parliament of Australia – Inquiry into and report on all aspects of the conduct of the 2013 Federal Election and matters related thereto Second Interim Report Chapter 3: National and international experience – Committee Comments
For more on Estonian Internet voting, see subsequent blog post (in legacy blog) Estonian Internet voting and turnout myths.

there was no impact on turnout, which actually decreased very slightly

above from UK Electoral Commission – Official report on internet voting pilot at Rushmoor elections published – June 3, 2008

Internet voting is seen by some as a potential solution to this trend of declining voter turnout. … While there have been some Internet voting elections where voter turnout has increased, when other factors such as the apparent closeness of the race and interest in particular contests (e.g., a mayoral election without an incumbent) are taken into consideration, research suggests that Internet voting does not generally cause non-voters to vote. Instead, Internet voting is mostly used as a tool of convenience for individuals who have already decided to vote.

above from BC Independent Panel on Internet Voting report (PDF) page 12 – February 2014

However, it said, there was no evidence that the trial led to a rise in the overall number of people voting nor that it mobilised new groups, such as young people, to vote.

above from BBC – E-voting experiments end in Norway amid security fears – 27 June 2014

At best, [Michael] McGregor said, the evidence is mixed. He sees internet voting as no different than advanced polls in that “it’s not increasing turnout, it’s just people who are already voting.”

[Nicole] Goodman’s data from municipal elections in the Toronto-area municipality of Markham, which has had internet voting since 2003, found that “those aged 35–64 are the strongest internet voting users in all election years and suggest that online ballots are growing in popularity among older voters while use is waning among younger voters.”

above from CBC News – Why hi-tech voting has low priority for Canadian elections – September 9, 2015

  • Statistics indicate that internet voting does not increase voter turnout or youth participation.

above from City of Mississauga report on Internet Voting – Potential enhancements for the 2018 Municipal Election: Internet Voting, Ranked Choice Elections and Vote Anywhere. (PDF) – June 20, 2016

Some content above adapted from legacy blog post evidence about online voting (particularly turnout).

In the Special Committee on Electoral Reform report Strengthening Democracy in Canada, they quote Harold Jansen

Harold Jansen posited that introducing online voting would not have any appreciable impact on voter turnout:

I also am suspicious of how great the gains would be in terms of voter turnout. I think most of the issues lie around motivation, not opportunity. I’m suspicious of a lot of things when people say on surveys, “Oh, I was too busy to vote”. Often, it just means, “There are other things more important to me than voting.” Okay, citizens can make those kinds of determinations. Voting is not that onerous, and I think Elections Canada has done a pretty good job in the last 20 years of improving the accessibility of the vote. There are more ways to vote than ever before.

I don’t think we should expect realistically huge gains in voter turnout. I don’t think that should be a motivation. It would be more convenient for some people, but these are people who would likely vote anyway. What I found was that the people most likely to say they were very likely to cast a vote in our survey were people who had already voted. They would just switch to doing it online.412

412ERRE, Evidence, 1st Session, 42nd Parliament, 22 August 2016, 2005 (Harold Jansen).

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