Citizens may be able to remotely vote over the Internet to elect their mayor and council as early as 2014.
Union of B.C. Municipalities delegates voted by a two-to-one margin Wednesday to urge the province to lay the groundwork to allow online voting as an option three years from now.
Advocates of the idea say it could reverse a trend of sagging voter turnout, while detractors worry casting a ballot may no longer be secret, opening the door to vote-tampering by interest groups out to sway the result.
“We all have to acknowledge the fact society has changed,” said Coquitlam Coun. Linda Reimer, one of the delegates who voted in favour.
Just 20.5 per cent of Coquitlam voters turned out in the last election, she said, and the provincial average is 35 per cent for civic elections.
White Rock Coun. Lynne Sinclair dismissed another delegate’s suggestion many seniors aren’t tech-savvy and wouldn’t benefit.
She said one Ontario city that allows online voting found most users are seniors with mobility problems.
Others warned it’s too risky to end the long tradition of voting secretly in a ballot booth at an authorized polling place.
“Online voting is fraught with danger,” said Sunshine Coast Regional District director Donna Shugar.
“You don’t know who is in the room with a voter coercing or persuading them. We do not allow people to go in the polling booth with other people when they are voting.”
When the voting booth becomes your computer in your home, she said, such restrictions and safeguards will no longer exist.
“It’s too easy to hack a system,” added Fraser Valley Regional District director Wendy Bales, predicting the technology – if it backfires – may not strengthen democracy but further erode faith in the system.
Spallumcheen Mayor Will Hansma pointed to irregularities over online voting during the BC LIberal leadership vote earlier this year.
“I was busy so I phoned my wife, gave her my number and she voted for me,” Hansma said, adding there’s so far no technological solution available to block unauthorized voting or undue influence.
“This isn’t being forced on anyone,” countered Kelowna Coun. Kevin Craig. “If it’s not right for your community, you’re not being railroaded into it.”
Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Ida Chong has promised to pursue the idea, which would require a change of legislation and time to sort out the technological issues.
Another tradition that will definitely end in 2014 is November voting.
From that year on, local voting will happen in October.
The election date change was approved by the province in response to a UBCM vote a year ago.
UBCM had its own wrangle of electronic voting at the start of proceedings.
Delegates had been given electronic voting devices to vote on resolutions, but some questioned whether the wireless gadgets might let some vote from outside the hall – or even go golfing while other delegates vote for them. They were told it’s possible, but it would be wrong.