Month: December 2016

MyDemocracy archetypes and online voting in Canada

The Government of Canada consultation questions will sort you into one of five “archetypes”:  Guardians, Challengers, Pragmatists, Cooperators or Innovators.  Based on the archetype, it will tell you what you think about online voting.  (Let’s for a moment set aside the validity of an online poll that draws conclusions about online voting, or the validity of this odd sorting hat exercise in and of itself.)

Summary: Please read a briefing about online voting before you answer the questions, but even if you read the briefing, your archetype grouping may not match your answers.

Table of Contents

The website doesn’t provide the capsule summaries for each archetype, but some of them have been posted to Twitter (I have to assume these particular screenshots haven’t been altered).  Here’s what they tell you you think about online voting:


…the least likely to support moving from paper ballots to online voting.


Split on the question of whether Canadians should have the option to vote online.


…among the least likely archetypes to support online voting.


…they are open to online voting as a means to increase electoral participation…


…the most open to the possibility of online voting as a means to increase electoral participation.

Biased Framing

“open to”

“increase electoral participation”

So basically if you’re opposed to online voting it’s because you’re not “open to” it.  I am “open to” it.  I’ve just spent twelve years following the issue.  I’m opposed because of the evidence.

Speaking of evidence, online voting does not increase electoral participation.  Study after study, election after election, expert witness after expert witness demonstrates this.  I wrote an entire blog post about turnout, it could easily have been twice as long, there’s tons of evidence.  More concisely, 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: (see also ) NOTE: It appears originally provided link no longer works

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: (UPDATED link 2019-09-13)

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):

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:

Dubious Questions

The questions use an “even if” framing.  Note that they are presented in a random order, so I can’t indicate a specific question number.

Values - online even if less secure

“less secure”?  Less secure than what?  In what context?  Based on what information?

Values - even if this increases the cost

“increases the cost”?  By how much?  A million dollars?  A billion dollars?  What cost, the cost on the day of the election?  The cost to develop the system?  The total lifecycle cost?

But it gets worse…

Values - would increase voter participation

now we’re asking people to express an opinion on something that is provably not true.  I just listed the evidence above.  So it’s basically “do you agree with this thing that is false?”

Next we ask people to weigh security against accessibility.  Or in other words, to weigh security against compassion.

Preferences - cast ballots online

So basically, will you trade (some unknown level of) security and privacy for helping other citizens.

Frankly, I don’t care whether these questions tilt in favour of online voting or against.  What I care about is that they tilt at all.  You’re supposed to dive in with no information and click.  There’s no option at each step to get any context whatsoever.  This is not an informed consultation.

I am all in favour of consultation, but only one that is evidence-based, with a briefing weighing the pros and cons in details.  Instead there is no briefing paper provided about online voting to help provide context for people’s decisions.  I have written a separate blog post about the lack of briefing, in which I’ve provided extensive links to Internet voting reference material.

They put me in Slytherin

You will be unsurprised to find that I answered all of the questions about online voting with “Strongly Disagree”.  This put me to the far left edge of the online voting theme, as the strongest possible supporter of paper ballots, as one would expect.

And then MyDemocracy still clustered me into Innovators, who have the strongest support for online voting.
MyDemocracy online voting

Archetype Screenshots

MyDemocracy GuardiansMyDemocracy ChallengersMyDemocracy PragmatistsMyDemocracy CooperatorsMyDemocracy Innovators

MyDemocracy and online voting in Canada

The Government of Canada consultation website has launched.  This was an opportunity to inform every Canadian household about electoral reform issues, including online voting.

On the site at the very bottom right, you can click to “Learn More”.

MyDemocracy Learn More

Summary: You will not get a comprehensive briefing about online voting from the government no matter how far down the trail of links you go.

My Briefing about Online Voting

Here’s what you could have gotten:

You also could have gotten

  • An completely separate briefing about the use of electronic voting technologies at polling places, along with the many risks, and an explanation that from an implementation standpoint, there is no connection whatsoever between implementing polling place technologies and remote online voting

Details of the Government’s Online Voting Information

Here’s what you will actually get.

Clicking Learn More will take you to

And here’s what that page, entitled Democracy in Canada, has to say about online voting, under How you vote – How you cast your ballot

Today, most of us vote in person by pencil and paper, either on election day itself or in the advance polls in the days beforehand. Many people also use special ballots, which are mailed in or cast at your local Elections Canada office. Introducing new technologies at the polls could pave the way for online voting in the future.

Aujourd’hui, la plupart d’entre nous votent en personne en utilisant un crayon et du papier, soit le jour même des élections, soit dans les bureaux de scrutin par anticipation dans les jours qui précèdent. De nombreuses personnes utilisent aussi des bulletins de vote spéciaux, qui sont envoyés par la poste ou déposés à votre bureau local d’Élections Canada. La mise en place de nouvelles technologies dans les bureaux de scrutin pourrait ouvrir la voie au vote en ligne dans les années à venir.

Where does this assertion that “new technologies” (electronic voting) could lead to online voting come from? What evidence supports it?

Where is the discussion paper / issues paper / briefing about online voting?  Why are we discussing electronic voting in polling places at all?

If, by some miracle, you scroll all the way to the bottom of the Democracy in Canada page, you will find two more resources, one from Samara about different types of voting systems that provides no additional information about online and electronic voting, and one from the Library of Parliament.

For more information about Canada's current electoral system

Clicking the Library of Parliament link will take you to

UPDATE 2020-05-23: Link is now ENDUPDATE

Ok, maybe now we have a briefing about online voting, providing evidence from various fields of expertise including computer science, and weighing risks and benefits.

Well no, we don’t.  Somehow you navigate your way through the table of contents or through the long text to section 6.2 Online Voting

Library of Parliament Online Voting

And if you make it there, you will get, not one page, not 9 pages, not 16 pages, but four paragraphs. With no computer science experts cited.  As I documented in June 2016 in my analysis Online voting section of Background Paper 2016-06-E on Electoral Systems.

I will again express my profound disappointment in the failure of the government to provide an adequate, evidence-based briefing to inform consideration of online voting, particularly given the fact that they had an opportunity to provide information to all Canadians.  And to emphasize my concerns that in addition we are also having a discussion about electronic voting with, extraordinarily, no information or context whatsoever (not even a definition of what electronic voting is, or what technologies we may be considering).

Hashtag for the MyDemocracy consultation isn’t clear.  Presumably #EngagedInER ?  The most common one being used at the moment is #MyDemocracy

For more information about the consideration of electronic voting technologies in polling places, please keep an eye on the future Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada, and discussions at PROC, as well as the Ministry of Democratic Institutions.

Aleksander Essex presents about Internet voting security to Toronto Exec Committee

Researcher Aleksander Essex presented to the December 1, 2016 Toronto Executive Committee meeting that was considering a report recommending against Internet voting. You can see Aleksander’s presentation from 9:38 to 13:56 in the meeting video below.

He states “an overwhelming number of cybersecurity experts view Internet voting as one of the most challenging open problems in security, for a great many reasons”.

For more information about the 2016 Toronto report that was being discussed, see Toronto Internet voting.

Dr. Essex was co-author of the 2014 Toronto RFP report Internet Voting for Persons with Disabilities – Security Assessment of Vendor Proposals (PDF, Internet Archive).

For more about Aleksander Essex see my list of computer science experts

ERRE Electoral Reform Committee Recommends Against Online Voting

The Special Committee on Electoral Reform, otherwise known as ERRE, has released its report with recommendations. The recommendation on online voting is unambiguous:

Recommendation 4
The Committee recommends that online voting not be implemented at this time.

Recommandation 4
Le Comité recommande que le vote en ligne ne soit pas mis en oeuvre à l’heure actuelle.

The report is Strengthening Democracy In Canada: Principles, Process And Public Engagement For Electoral Reform or « Renforcer la démocratie au Canada : principes, processus et mobilisation citoyenne en vue d’une réforme électorale ».

The online voting section is Chapter 6: Online and Electronic Voting, pp. 109-116 in the English report, and Chapitre 6 : Le Vote En Ligne Et Le Vote Électronique 119-127 in the French text.

There are two “Supplemental Reports” at the end of the main report, one by the Liberals  pp. 321-328, and one by the NDP & Greens pp. 329-333.  Neither supplemental report dissents from the recommendation against online voting.

The report also categorizes (pp. 309-310) the 574 submitted briefs by whether they submitted arguments in favour of or against online voting.  They found 52 briefs were in favour, and 60 were against.  They make no analysis of the evidence presented by the individual briefs (and in fairness I haven’t had time to do so either myself).

In the report itself, the only brief that is cited is from Brian Lack of Simply Voting, who concluded that the “heightened threat level of a federal election pushed the security of Internet voting past its limit and poses too much of a risk”.404

404Brian Lack (Simply Voting), “Simply Voting Submission to the Special Committee on Electoral Reform,” Submitted Brief, 20 September 2016.

It probably isn’t wise for me to criticise a process that came to the desired conclusion, but there are substantial issues with the way evidence was gathered and how it is presented in the report.

First and foremost, for an issue that involves complex technical questions of computer security and the nature of computer programs, there was a single computer science expert in online voting called.  One witness out of 196 invited witnesses.  Now we can certainly debate what percentage of the witnesses should have been computer science experts – 5%? 10%?  But I think we can agree that 0.5% is not sufficient.  And it’s actually not even really 0.5%.  The social science expert and the voting technology company each got 10 minutes, in Ottawa, on video.  The computer science expert (Dr. Barbara Simons) got 5 minutes, in Vancouver, on audio only.  So more like 0.1% of the testimony was from a computer science expert in online voting.

It is great that Dr. Simons is extensively quoted in the online voting section, but if she had missed her plane that entire section might have been radically different.  More experts should have been called – I have a list over a dozen experts they could have contacted.

I am a bit disappointed to hear committee members say, as Chair Francis Scarpaleggia said in the National Press Theatre (CPAC video, December 1, 2016) that the committee heard “convincing testimony from experts” about online voting computer security.  You heard from expert in computer security.  You only invited one.

Secondly, there are those of us who put hours into gathering and carefully presenting the evidence in our briefs about online voting.  But it turns out that two minutes on open-mic might have been time better spent, as there are two open-mic presenters cited vs. only one brief.

Thirdly, there was no white paper, no discussion paper, no briefing prepared to guide discussion of online voting.  BC, New Brunswick, and Edmonton all had discussion papers for online voting.  Why didn’t the Government of Canada?  Such a discussion paper might have mentioned e.g. that Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec and BC have all rejected online voting at a provincial level, with Ontario’s conclusion coming after three years of investigation.  And it might have said that Toronto, Waterloo and Edmonton have also rejected online voting at a municipal level.  And that Australia, Norway and the UK have all rejected national online voting.  How are we supposed to have a meaningful conversation without any background information, without any context?

Fourthly, the report examines “and electronic voting” even though the mandate of the committee clearly states only “online voting”.  Do committee mandates not have any meaning?

In conclusion, I hope that the advice from the Committee about online voting will be accepted by the Minister, and I sincerely hope that it will be a long time before we consider online voting again.  Since the report is only advisory, I still urge you to contact the Minister directly to express your opinion about online voting.  I also hope the next time we consider Internet voting, we invite more than one computer science expert witness, and have an discussion document providing evidence from the computer science community.