Nov 072012

Published on Friday June 26, 2009

Joan Bryden

OTTAWA–Allowing Canadians to vote electronically may be the remedy for the ever-dwindling percentage of voters who bother to exercise their democratic rights, Elections Canada suggests.

In a report released late Friday, the independent electoral watchdog says it will push this fall for legislative changes that would allow it to implement online registration of voters.

And it wants parliamentary approval to conduct an electronic voting test-run in a byelection by 2013.

The report notes that only 58.8 per cent of registered voters actually cast ballots during last October’s federal election – the worst-ever voter turnout in Canadian history.

“It would appear that voting competes with other daily priorities for a substantial number of electors,” says the report, summarizing the results of surveys, focus groups and other evaluations commissioned by Elections Canada in the wake of the Oct. 14 vote.

“In that sense, Elections Canada’s efforts to make registration and voting more accessible and convenient for electors (e.g., through initiatives such as e-registration and an eventual e-voting pilot) appear to be well positioned.

“By working at ‘bringing the ballot to the elector,’ we may contribute to mitigating some of the reasons for lower turnout.”

A survey conducted for the agency found that 57 per cent of those who didn’t vote in the last election blamed “everyday situations” – such as being on holiday, being too busy, family obligations or work schedules – for their failure to cast ballots.

Thirty-six per cent cited negative attitudes toward politics or political parties, including 14 per cent who said they were too apathetic and eight per cent who said they were too cynical to bother voting.

The survey also found considerable public interest in making it easier to vote. Fifty-eight per cent of electors said they’d be likely to use the Internet to register and 54 per cent said they’d be likely to use it to vote.

Among those who didn’t vote in the last election, the survey found 55 per cent said they’d be likely to use the Internet to vote if the service was available.

Sixty-four per cent of non-voting young people and 41 per cent of non-voting aboriginal electors – two of the groups with the lowest voter turnout – said the same.

The report suggests electronic voting may also benefit Canadian Forces members and other Canadians living temporarily outside the country. If they want to vote, their only option at the moment is to obtain a special mail-in ballot.

However, the report says many out-of-country voters have missed the deadline because of the relatively complicated special ballot procedure, combined with the short election time frame and limitations of the postal service.

Last October, 3,675 special ballots were received two weeks after election day, too late to be counted.

“This is an area where we believe electors would benefit from online services.”

While voters seem to like the idea, candidates are not quite so keen.

A survey of candidates in the last election found 75 per cent believe voters should be able to register online. But when it comes to actually casting ballots via the Internet, 48 per cent of candidates were opposed and 46 per cent were in favour.

“The survey indicates that most Canadians are interested in online registration and voting,” the report concludes.

“In view of the number of Canadians who are interested in accessing electoral services online, our efforts to put e-registration in place and to test e-voting are well aligned to their needs.”

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