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LETTER: Municipal e-voting 'not appropriate at this time'

"E-voting is not likely to increase turnout," reader says
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GuelphToday received the following Letter to the Editor from reader Cameron Shelley, in regards to council's upcoming decision about e-voting in the city’s 2026 municipal election: 

On May 28, the Guelph City Council will consider adoption of e-voting in the city’s 2026 municipal election. Let me briefly review some reasons why adoption would not be appropriate at this time.

E-voting is more accessible to voters for whom polling stations or paper ballots are not. Accessibility is also important to election integrity. If it were the only consideration, there would be little debate.

E-voting is not likely to increase turnout. Figures compiled in 2022 for voter turnout in Ontario municipalities where e-voting had been used for at least two elections show an overall decrease in turnout.

In 2019, a group of cybersecurity experts examined e-voting systems worldwide and revealed numerous and substantial cybersecurity failures, which allow attackers to change election results surreptitiously. Their conclusion: “We do not know whether any paperless e­voting system will ever prove itself adequate for government elections; thus far, none has.”

Some non-technical weaknesses in e-voting require little effort or expertise. Consider voter-targeted phishing: Voters receive emails or text messages reminding them to vote and giving them a link to an official-looking election site. The site may simply dispose of “votes” that visitors think they have cast. Or, it may apply login credentials that voters are tricked into giving to let others impersonate them and vote in their place. Phishing has become an all-too-common form of online scamming that readers have likely encountered themselves. This attack is also similar to the one perpetrated by Michael Sona in Guelph in 2011, when he used a robocalling machine to deliver deceptive messages to Guelph voters. Phishing messages can easily be applied for the same purpose.

Artificial intelligence, such ChatGPT, has made such attacks even easier. This AI can help anyone to research and prepare this (and other) attacks step-by-step and assist with each step, such as coding an official looking election website.

E-voting also results in voter coercion and vote taking. In Ontario’s 2018 municipal elections, instances came to light of parents casting ballots on behalf of their children, spouses casting their partners’ ballots, and even people gifting their voting credentials to others. As is the case with accessibility, this issue may affect a small number of voters but remains a significant consideration.

As the recent Staff Report for Guelph’s 2026 election points out, e-voting provides little to no verifiability: “There is no external way to verify whether results reflect the proper majority of votes cast, votes are counted accurately, and only valid votes are counted and upheld.”

This inscrutability exists because providers of e-voting systems do not allow anyone to examine their code nor oversee its performance. Essentially, e-voting operates in a black box and voters have only the assurance of vendors that announced election results are accurate.

Imagine that the city outsourced its paper balloting under these conditions: Contractors make records as voters bring ballots to polling stations; at the end of voting, they destroy the ballots, take their records into a private backroom, then emerge and announce the winners and losers. They refuse to divulge how they calculated the results and refuse to allow anyone to examine their records. Also, since the original ballots were destroyed, no recount is possible. Such an arrangement would violate the Ontario Municipal Elections Act in numerous ways and is, frankly, patently ridiculous. Why, then, is it OK when it is done over the internet?

We have arrived in this strange place due to the actions, or inactions, of the government of Ontario. In 2012, after the government abandoned its pilot project to explore e-voting in provincial elections, due to the sort of concerns raised above, it inexplicably allowed municipalities to adopt e-voting, without laying down any regulations or standards, or providing any support. Without the resources to deal properly with the challenges of e-voting, Ontario municipalities have adopted a mosaic of voting methods of varying and inadequate levels of quality. This situation is unfair to Ontarians and threatens to erode trust and engagement in municipal elections.

Instead of adding to the current mess and saddling Guelphites with a substandard remote voting method, the city should be advocating for its residents and demanding that the provincial government put its money where its mouth is when it comes to the issue of e-voting adoption.

Cameron Shelley, Guelph