Ontario to use electronic voting machines for first time in spring election

For the first time in a provincial election in Ontario, voters will use electronic voting machines when they head to the polls on June 7.

Elections Ontario says the new technology should help speed up voting, ballot-counting process

Ontario Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa holds up a printout of a mocked up vote result from a vote tabulator as he demonstrates an electronic voting machine. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

For the first time in a provincial election in Ontario, voters will use electronic voting machines when they head to the polls on June 7.

The voters' paper lists will also be a thing of past in most ridings, replaced by an electronic version called e-Poll Book.

Elections Ontario says the new technology should help speed up both the voting and ballot-counting process.

When voters show up at a polling station, a machine will scan their notice of registration card, a process similar to scanning food at a grocery store.

Then the voters will receive their ballot from an official, fill it out and hand it back to the official who will put it through the tabulating machine.

A spokeswoman for Elections Ontario says the new technology was tested at two byelections in 2016, and was also used in a variety of municipal elections.

"We're hoping this will be much more efficient for the voter," said Cara Des Granges. "Getting results should be faster and the technology is proven to be more reliable than tabulating votes by hand."

In the Feb. 11, 2016 byelection in the Whitby-Oshawa riding, it took only 30 minutes to count the ballots using the new machines, compared to the 90 minutes it took officials to count them by hand, according to an Elections Ontario report that examined the byelection.

Ontario Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa slides a ballot into a vote tabulator. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The report also said the new technology would help with another election issue: staffing.

"Elections Ontario is increasingly unable to find the required number of polling officials," wrote Greg Essensa, the province's chief electoral officer in the byelection report, titled "Proposal for a technology-enabled staffing model for Ontario provincial elections."

It's not an easy job, he wrote, with election officials working 14- to 16-hour days with the meticulous vote-counting coming at the very end of the day.

In 2014, there were 76,000 polling officials working on election day. As the population grows, and with 17 new electoral districts added to the election map — Elections Ontario estimates it would have needed 100,000 polling officials if the voting system remained the same.

Instead, only 55,000 polling officials will be working on election day, Des Granges said.

The report also said the agency had looked at internet voting, but to date it had not found a networked voting solution that would protect the integrity of the electoral process.

Bugs still to work out

The new technology, however, is not perfect, noted the report.

Some of the e-Poll Books had connectivity issues that forced staff to revert to the paper lists, some of the scanners didn't work and staff had trouble resolving the issues.

The machines won't be everywhere on election day, however. They'll be in about 50 per cent of the voting locations, but will serve 90 per cent of the electorate.

Another reason to switch to machines is driven by the times, the agency said.

"The public has an expectation as a modern society to expect modern services and this is what we're trying to do," Des Granges said.



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