The City of St. John’s will ask the province to allow online voting in municipal elections.
At Tuesday’s regular meeting, city council approved a recommendation from its audit and accountability committee to ask the provincial government to amend the Municipal Elections Act to allow Internet voting.
The recommendation grew out of a broader review of the municipal elections process.
“The recommendation of the committee was that we would seek support, or guidance, or permission from the provincial government to allow us to look at Internet voting,” said Deputy Mayor Ron Ellsworth.
City clerk Neil Martin explained that an amendment to provincial legislation would be necessary to allow a community to permit online voting, much like one was required to allow voting by mail.
“What is being proposed (is) that an amendment be sought to the Municipal Elections Act to do the exact same thing, so that any municipality (that) wishes to conduct their vote by Internet can do so,” said Martin. “That does not mean that you have to do it. It just means that the authority’s there to do so if you so choose.”
Coun. Dave Lane said allowing Internet voting would be a prudent move.
“I grew up on the Internet. I hardly know what real life is. I’m on it all the time,” he said. “I think it would be very convenient and helpful for a lot of people if we could vote for our elected representatives online.”
Lane noted the amendment would still require a municipality to ensure any online vote was secure. He suggested if St. John’s were to institute online voting that it do trial runs in other, less sensitive areas to ensure information can be collected securely.
Two councillors — Art Puddister and Wally Collins — said the potential risks of online voting are too great to ask the provincial government for the legislative amendment.
“I think too much can go wrong. I think hackers can get into it,” said Collins, who noted Newfoundland and Labrador doesn’t allow online voting in provincial elections. “You take even that airplane that was lost 10 days ago, down Malaysia. Nobody knows what happened to that, if they turned on the buttons or turned off the buttons, right? All this is subject to hackers, and I don’t agree with it. The way the system is now, there’s nothing wrong with it, as far as I’m concerned.”
Puddister said the city should focus its efforts on ensuring an accurate voters’ list, another aspect of the broader review.
Martin noted, however, that — again, like voting by mail — a municipality that wished to allow online voting would have to pass a bylaw that outlines how the voting would take place, which would have to be approved by the provincial government.
“You would have to have a bylaw that is very specific as to how you’re going to do it, and that bylaw has to be approved by the minister,” he said.
Other councillors, as well as Mayor Dennis O’Keefe, were in favour of looking into Internet voting, partly as a way to increase voter turnout.
“Telecommunications and communications have changed dramatically in the last 25 years,” said O’Keefe. “We need to put options into our voting system to allow as many people to vote as easily as they can possibly vote in a secure fashion as we can possibly develop. And that includes the option of Internet voting.”