Elections Canada drops plan for online voting due to cuts

Elections Canada has abandoned plans to experiment with an online voting pilot in a byelection before the 2015 general election. A spokesperson said Tuesday that experiments with online voting are postponed "for the long term" due to budget cuts.

Paper ballots will be the only choice, but a new report reveals multiple errors with them

Voting problems

10 years ago
Duration 2:12
No online voting any time soon, and raft of procedural errors revealed during 2011 federal election

Elections Canada has abandoned plans to experiment with an online voting pilot project before the 2015 general election due to budget cuts.

Elections Canada also has concerns about the security of online voting, but a new report indicates that voting irregularities happen frequently at polling stations on voting day even when paper ballots are used. 

A spokesperson for Elections Canada said Tuesday that experiments with online voting are postponed "for the long term," and the reasons for the delay are due to an eight per cent budget cut that took effect this year, translating into a loss of $7.5 million per year. 

A  plan to try out online voting in a federal byelection sometime before 2015 has been quashed.

During the last general election in 2011, Marc Mayrand, the chief electoral officer of Elections Canada, told CBC that online voting is "the way of the future". The plan was to eventually incorporate internet balloting into general elections, although Mayrand estimated that voting by laptop or smart phone as a permanent feature was at least  "three general elections away."

In August 2011, Mayrand told a parliamentary committee, "Elections Canada has been examining internet voting as a complementary and convenient way to cast a ballot. The chief electoral officer is committed to seeking approval for a test of Internet voting in a byelection held after 2013."

However, in a recent report to parliament, Mayrand said, "Elections Canada is scaling back its efforts on internet voting and will delay conducting an I-voting pilot project until after the next general election."

Some municipalities have experimented successfully with online voting, particularly Markham, Ont., and Halifax. In Markham's 2006 municipal election, voter turnout increased by 10 per cent, likely because online voting was offered as an option. No province has ever tried online voting.

Online voting was never meant to substitute for voting the old-fashioned way, in person with a paper ballot.

Still plenty of problems with paper voting

However, a report released Tuesday by Elections Canada shows that there are plenty of problems with paper voting.

The report says officials at polling stations across Canada committed a raft of serious procedural errors during the 2011 federal election.

The report was commissioned by Elections Canada after a court case about voting irregularities in the Toronto riding of Etobicoke Centre revealed dozens of instances of missing paperwork on polling day May 2, 2011.

The report says the same kinds of mistakes happened right across the country. It includes a national audit of the paperwork filled out by elections officials who are supposed to ensure voters whose names don't appear on the list are eligible to cast a ballot.

The paperwork was seriously deficient in more than 165,000 cases. That means, on average, election officers made more than 500 serious procedural errors in each of Canada's 308 ridings.

The same kinds of mistakes were found to have occurred in Etobicoke Centre, and last spring an Ontario Superior Court judge overturned the results in that riding.  However, the Supreme Court of Canada reversed that decision, ruling that the constitutional right to vote trumps almost all procedural errors.

Nevertheless, the report concludes that the procedures for verifying voters must be simplified and election officials must be better trained.

As reported by the Canadian Press, Mayrand has accepted the report's conclusions and recommendations.

The budget cuts Elections Canada are facing mean it's also trimming its international vote monitoring program, and will move its Ottawa office to Gatineau, Que.

The Minister of State for Democratic Reform, Tim Uppal, said in a statement that Elections Canada, like all agents of Parliament, agreed to a budget review, and that Mayrand  "very clearly indicated he has the resources he needs."

Uppal also said the report identified serious problems with Elections Canada's "administration of its core mandate in the last election," and that "reform is necessary and needed to help ensure Elections Canada's compliance with election rules."

In April, Uppal gave notice that he was about to table new legislation about electoral reform, something Elections Canada has been requesting. However after a meeting of the Conservative caucus, Uppal said he had rushed the legislation in order to accomodate Elections Canada, and postponed the tabling of a new bill.

No new date has been set for the legislation's introduction.

With files from the Canadian Press