Category: Links to audio

More on Marc Mayrand and electronic voting in Canada

Outgoing Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand wants to explore the use of electronic technology in the polling place for Canadian national elections. It’s not entirely clear what kind of technology. In his recommendations he points to the use of vote counting computers. Speaking to CBC’s The House on December 2, 2016, starting at 09:40 in, he speaks more generally about electronic voting.

Mark Mayrand 02-Dec-2016 electronic voting

I think the next step for Elections Canada is to bring technology at the polls. … If we could automate the processes at the polls, there would be fewer errors. … we also need to think about a form of electronic voting. Again technology is changing quickly, there’s new [technologies] that are more robust from a point of view of integrity and security and auditability, so we need to explore those [technologies] and begin at some point testing it.

He also spoke about this in an earlier interview, again on CBC’s The House, on September 30, 2016, starting basically at the beginning (0:07 in).

Mark Mayrand 30-Sept-2016 modernizing voting system

I think we need to increase our reliance on technology. Our system is entirely paper-based, it’s entirely manual, it’s very rigid, and it’s not scalable. … We want to get rid of the paper as much as we can. We want to automate processes, forms… filling those paper forms is also often a source of errors.

Right now our entire voting process fits on a single page. That’s not rigid, that’s beautiful code.

The Source Code of Canadian Democracy

(Slide from my presentation to Shopify about Internet voting.)

The outgoing Chief Electoral Officer is recommending we replace that one nationwide standard process with counting processes, including vote counting computers, as determined solely by the Chief Electoral Officer. I think this would be a major step backwards for Canada’s elections.

It’s hard to know how the recommendation about the use of technology at the polling places is being received, because  other than the first meeting, all 9 of the subsequent meetings on the topic to date at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC) were closed (in camera; a meeting with a lock symbol).

These discussions are taking place in an environment where almost no one involved is a technology expert, let alone a voting technology expert, and where there has been no broad discussion in the media about electronic voting.  The consultation process associated with electoral reform did ask about electronic voting (despite not having a clear mandate to do so), but provided no briefing or even definition of electronic voting to provide context for discussions.

So basically as usual we’re making decisions about technology without involvement of technology experts, and without any information provided either from the government or by the media.

It is not clear how the public can provide input into the discussions, other than by contacting PROC.

(“Yesterday” in the image below means December 6, 2016.)

PROC closed meetings about Chief Electoral Officers report 2016

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.

Dr. Barbara Simons about Internet voting on As It Happens

Carol Off interviewed Barbara Simons on CBC Radio’s As It Happens on November 24, 2016. The segment is about the US recount, but Dr. Simons is asked about Canada:

Carol Off: What concerns should the Canadian government have [about switching to computer/internet based voting]?

Barbara Simons: First of all, the notion that internet voting increases the number of people who vote is not true. The increase is small. It doesn’t even increase participation by young people. On top of that, if you want to have the elections hacked in Canada, the best thing to do is have internet voting — because that makes it really easy to hack them, anywhere. And a nation state has enormous power to do that.

The full transcript is available, scroll to segment “Election Recount”.

For more about Barbara Simons see my list of computer science experts

October 2, 2016  ERRE Presentation – Internet Voting: Making Elections Hackable – Dr. Barbara Simons