Renfrew dabbles in electronic voting

The move to electronic voting for the upcoming municipal election is meeting with some resistance in the town of Renfrew, where many older residents still prefer to visit ballot boxes.

The move to electronic voting for the upcoming municipal election is meeting with some resistance in the town of Renfrew, where many older residents still prefer to visit ballot boxes.

This year, several Ottawa Valley municipalities, including Arnprior, McNab-Braeside, Laurentian Valley, Whitewater Region and Pembroke, have moved to electronic or phone voting for the Oct. 25 elections.

Residents will cast ballots with the aid of a personal identification number, or PIN, they receive in the mail.

Internet voting has been tested as an option in municipalities in Ontario and across the country, and is seen as particularly attractive in smaller rural ridings, where elections with traditional polling stations can be expensive to run.

In an effort to appeal to older voters, Renfrew is going halfway, introducing the new method and continuing to offer the traditional pen and paper ballot boxes.

Renfrew town clerk Kim Bulmer said he has been flooded with questions.

"It is a large step," said Bulmer. "Several members of council felt they were a little leery jumping into electronic completely. They wanted to see a hybrid, blended election a trial."

Full electronic vote by 2014

The cost of running electronic voting, alongside ballot boxes, is going to double the cost of running the election, said Bulmer. By 2014, however, the municipality hopes to go to a fully electronic vote.

While electronic voting is a solution for older voters with mobility issues, the level of comfort isn't there yet, said Bev Powell, the general manager of the Quail Creek Retirement Centre.

"How are they going to enter a pin number when they don't know how to run a computer?" said Powell.

"[As for] the phone, I don't think they're going to trust...[that] it's private and confidential. So I don't think it's going to work."

Many seniors CBC spoke with also expressed their fondness for traditional voting methods.

Renfrew resident Frank McMahon, says he hasn't missed an election in 63 years of eligibility and says casting a ballot is a tradition he wants to keep.

"It's physical. You can touch it. You have to go make your mark, come back, put it in the box," said McMahon. "And you feel like you accomplished something."

In 2009, Elections Canada advocated allowing online voting for federal elections, saying the method would help improve voter turnout.

But some critics have raised concerns about the potential for security breaches. University of Ottawa internet law professor Michael Geist wrote in March that elections officials in Canada need to tread carefully before pursuing the online voting option.

"Given the security risks, opening the door to provincial or federal internet voting seems premature," said Geist on his blog.

"In the zeal to increase voter turnout, the reliance on internet voting could inadvertently place the validity of the election process at risk."