Internet voting, eh?

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The Canadian Press reports that Elections Canada is pushing to move to "Internet Voting". The underlying report is here. More precisely, they want to do online voter registration and explore online voting. This isn't surprising, really. The 2007 Strategic Plan for 2008-2013 includes the following goals:

  • research and monitor technological trials and innovations in other jurisdictions, both in Canada and internationally
  • implement a registration process that allows electors to register in person, by mail, telephone or Internet anytime and anywhere
  • with the prior approval of Parliament, test a secure voting process during a by-election that allows electors to vote by telephone or Internet

The motivation for online registration seems obvious: people expect to be able to do a wide variety of tasks online, and it seems at least plausible that one could build a secure online registration system. (see here for previous comments on this topic.)

The general motivation seems to be the same as in the US—absentee and especially overseas voters have a lousy election experience, with the requirement to get your ballot, fill it out, and then return it all within the usual fairly short window between ballot finalization and the election (based on the report, a 36 day window is common here). Here's the bottom line:

In view of the number of Canadians who are interested in accessing electoral services on-line, our efforts to put e-registration in place and to test e-voting are well aligned to their needs. At the same time, we are aware that many Canadians, and candidates in particular, are still uncertain about electoral services over the Internet, especially when it comes to on-line voting. We will continue our consultations as we move forward with these services, and will ensure that future voter services meet the high standards of integrity and security that Canadians have come to expect from their electoral processes. We will also return to Parliament with recommendations for legislative change that would allow us to fully implement on-line registration.

I don't know how to read Canadian bureaucrat-speak, but this sure looks like Elections Canada thinks that Internet voting is something they should do and that in principle one can get it right, perhaps after some trial and error. I wonder whether they've consulted with any security experts.

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In totally unrelated news, Passport Canada has stopped permitting on-line passport applications due to security complaints from the Privacy Commissioner, and a high-profile breach a year ago.

Elections Canada and Passport Canada should really get together and talk sometime. Unfortunately the main office for the former is located in Gatineau, Quebec, while the main office for the latter is in Ottawa, and the two metropolises are separated by a vast body of water known as the Rideau Canal. At the speed of government, it takes ages for information to cross it. I would expect this news to arrive at Elections Canada between 1 and 3 years after online voting is implemented.

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