The E-Voting Aftermath

With the municipal elections in Ontario now concluded, supporters of Markham's Internet voting service (namely the service provider) are trumpeting the outcome, arguing that an increasing percentage of voters used the Internet.  A press release from Delvinia suggests that this is "a victory for busy people" and encourages other municipalities to follow Markham's lead.

It is impossible to know, however, whether or not the concerns associated with Internet and electronic voting arose in this past election.  They certainly did in the United States, where there have numerous reports of problems in Florida, Texas, Colorado, Indiana, and Tennessee. Moreover, pointing to the increased usage is a complete red herring.  It is the equivalent of banks saying there is no phishing problem because more people are using e-banking, the phone companies saying there is no problem with telemarketing because more people are using the phone, or the music industry saying there is no problem with DRM because more people are buying music from iTunes.  It should be obvious that an increase in usage says absolutely nothing about the safety, security, and credibility of Internet and e-voting.  Unfortunately, it is apparently not obvious to all.


  1. I think the civic election voting system here in Ottawa is ideal. Paper ballot, marked in the usual way, privacy sleeve to hide your choices, the ballot gets scanned into a machine, then retained, and seemingly within a half-hour of the polls closing, the results are out.

    If there’s a dispute or need for a recount, the paper ballots are all there and can be dealt with manually.

    I find it incomprehensible that the US (and apparently other jurisdictions) would go with these seemingly dodgy e-voting systems.

  2. BBV
    e-voting is a joke. This is NO WAY, without a paper trail, to prove that everything was counted right, and there is little economic incentive to produce adequate machines (as opposed to banking and/or gambling).

    The documentary \’Hacking Democracy\’ on voting machines and is a real eye-opener on the subject.

  3. Dwight Williams says:

    Amen on Ottawa’s Approach
    By “Ottawa”, I mean City Hall here in Ottawa. Bob LeDrew’s right: we did it the right way, if we’ve got to have high tech in the process at all. Optical scan, with the original paper ballots as backup. No other way.

  4. I disagree with your approach – Internet
    I am in full agreement that we need to be mindful of concerns about the safety, security and credibility of Internet voting, but disagree that they are barriers to adoption. The fact is electoral officials in Markham take these concerns very seriously, and have chosen to work to manage them in order to provide voters with more choice in ways to exercise their right to vote. Your approach appears to say that if it is not perfect don’t continue to experiment and develop the platform. My opinion is the benefits of increased voter turnout are hard to deny and offer real hope to municipalities (and all levels of government for that matter) looking for new ways to get citizens engaged in the electoral process. We now have two successful elections under Markham’s belt where Internet voting was offered. A 48% increase in Internet voting is a testament that people want Internet voting as an option. The importance of maintaining the security and integrity of the voting process is a necessity, but dismissing the fact that many voters want to have the option to vote online is ridiculous. The one undeniable fact is that participation rates for politics as usual are in serious decline and getting worse. I would have thought you would be more progressive in your thinking on this issue and open to the possibilities.

    Adam Froman
    Delvinia Interactive
    [ link ]

  5. Dwight Williams says:

    How do you explain the success — relatively speaking — of Ottawa’s approach?

    Doing it our way, we had over 50% of eligible voters actually showing up at the polls and casting their paper ballots.

  6. Scarborough Resident says:


    I live in Scarborough and would have loved to vote through the internet….I hope the Markham experience is extended to Toronto as well in the near future…For those who have issues with it, think about e-Filing your annual Tax Return…hasn’t that really taken off and being used by more Canadians every year???

  7. Mr. Geist, you seem to argue that since there are security issues to consider in implementing online voting, online voting should not be implemented. This is akin to arguing that since phishing exists, there should be no online banking, and since telemarketing exists, there should be no phone services.

    Obviously, vote record security is a major concern. And there is absolutely no argument that it should be addressed. But equally, you have offered no convincing argument that it is impossible to address or that it is not being adequately addressed in Canada.

  8. responding to Dwight

    It’s not an our way, or your way. That’s great that they had a 50% turnout in Ottawa. Has anyone asked Ottawa residents if they would have liked to have the “option” of Internet voting. Perhaps Ottawa may have been 70% turnout?

  9. \”My opinion is the benefits of increased voter turnout are hard to deny…\”

    Name one.

    Now prove that it is a \”benefit.\”

  10. responding to Dean
    Two major benefits…
    1. Increased voter turnout
    2. Choice and convenience for voters

  11. Increased turnout by people who take little enough interest that they don’t bother to take five to ten minutes out of their lives, once every three or four years? Sorry, but I am not sure that will produce better governments. The convenience come at the expense of either security, provable accuracy, or balloting secrecy; I think that those who favour such a trade-off implicitly put an undue emphasis on convenience. The “choice yoiu speak of is simply another term for ‘convenience’ I take it, unless you care to adduce evidence that electronic voting attracts more candidates or causes them to vary their platforms?

  12. Sorry… s/b
    the “choice” you speak of…

  13. “For those who have issues with it, think about e-Filing your annual Tax Return…”

    Not a good comparison: unlike voting, there is no need for anonymity in submitting a tax return – in fact, quite the opposite; there is a requirement for provable identity and the ability for CRA to contact the taxpayer. In addition, while there is very little reason to expect multiple returns being filed, or returns filed for fictitious persons, even if it were done there is no risk to the CRA; they find that there is no associated SIN and either discard the return or refer it for further processing; the effect of submissions from fictitous people or multiple submissions from or in the name of real people is rather a greater problem when it comes to electing a government. Finally, electronic filing of tax returns is accompanied by all sorts of other validation – T4 matching as only the most obvious one – that do not appear in electronic voting systems.

    In electronic tax-filing the important consideration is at the tax return level; each taxpayer knows (or can ascertain) what their tax liability should be, that CRA has properly recognized instalments, and so on. In voting systems the important unit is not the individual ballot but the aggregate count – and that calculation occurs within a black box. Other than the assurance of the system operator we have no way of verifying that the calculation has been done correctly.

  14. Are you really serious?
    Are you saying that with an overall declining voter turnout, dismissing alternative forms of voting should be excluded? We are suffering from increasing voter apathy, people that are too busy to choose whether voting is of a priority than picking up their children, and even tech-savvy elder who may not be able to get out of their homes to vote. At least Markham is trying to address it. And convenience should not be associated with disinterest.

  15. No, Adam, I’m not – although increasing voter turnout just for the sake of having more ballots in the box is a damned poor reason to do anything; why not just add random votes until the total number of ballots equals the number of registered voters? Equally, ‘convenience’ as a selling feature for voting is weak. The most convenient way to vote would be to have people drive to my home, ask me how I would like my vote to be cast, and then promise to fill it out for me and drop it in the ballot box. There – in one fell swoop: higher turnout and increased convenience. I don’t think I would like such a voting system, even though on those two measures it performs exceptionally well.

    E-voting systems have the potential to increase the accuracy of the count, perhaps to reduce inadvertently spoiled ballots (the ‘hanging chad’ fiasco, for instance), and to speed up the delivery of the results. All of these are arguments in their favour – although they have to be balanced against security and anonymity; convenience (alone) is not.

  16. okay…
    Well, Dean. I agree with you completely. However, call me an optimist, but I don’t equate convenience with laziness. Nor do I feel that providing a convenient way for people to cast their votes will mean that they are simply voting without thinking. In fact, I would argue that there are many people who go to polling stations and cast a vote without much thought. I think that we agree that any vote that is cast without consideration is useless. I guess that we will have to agree to disagree about the importance of convenience in helping those that want to vote, but would prefer a more convenient way of participating. I’m glad you see some benefit in the work that Markham has done, and I respect your concerns. It’s great to see your passion on the importance of voting and the integrity of the vote – I wish there were more people like that.

  17. Richard Akerman says:

    My opinion on the Markham Internet voting and its vocal supporter(s) is at

    [ link ]