Unless things change in the next three weeks, the city will not offer internet voting in the 2018 municipal election.
Nor will it offer a paperless voting option during advance polls.
Guelph City Council’s Committee of the Whole voted Monday afternoon to remove internet voting from the picture for 2018 but not without a lot of wrestling with the concept of making voting more accessible and convenient versus concerns about security, privacy and the possibility of voter fraud.
Mayor Cam Guthrie took to the internet later that night to criticize the move.
On his Mayor’s blog he wrote: “Let that sink in. 7 votes today have the potential to prevent how 13,000 citizens voted in 2014 and how thousands more would choose to vote in the future,” wrote Guthrie.
He urged constituents to reach out to the seven councillors who voted against the motion: Bob Bell, Mike Salisbury, James Gordon, Leanne Piper, Karl Wettstein, June Hofland and Phil Allt.
City Clerk Stephen O’Brien said at Monday’s meeting that 33 per cent of the votes cast in the 2014 election were done on the internet when it was offered during the advance voting period. He said during a follow-up telephone survey, 63 per cent of respondents said they would engage in internet voting.
It was convenient for people with disabilities, shift workers, busy families and those who travel and couldn’t vote in person on election day, he said. And internet voting took place at all hours of the day and night.
“Internet voting cast across all age groups,” O’Brien said. “We’re seeing a turn toward internet voting and away from phone and mail.”
But a number of councillors and delegates expressed concern over the security, privacy, and the very integrity of online voting as it is susceptible to voter fraud and computer hacking.
They also accused MPAC, the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation of having lax rules about voter registration. MPAC develops the voter lists that are distributed to municipalities and the lists are notoriously inaccurate.
“It’s an atrocious voters’ list,” said Susan Watson, who spoke at a delegate. “No identification is required to get on the MPAC voter list. It’s susceptible to fraud. You could register your cat.”
Councillor Leanne Piper introduced an amendment to remove internet voting from the 2018 landscape. Changes to the Municipal Election Act have moved the deadline for municipalities to make decisions about their elections to May 1st a year before the election, so the decision is pressing.
“I don’t know if by 2018 the accuracy will be there,” she said.
O’Brien said that the city has its own two-step system to ensure the identity of the person registering to vote online but has no control over the list provided by MPAC.
“MPAC has to do something about voter identification,” said Coun. Cathy Downer.
Councillor Dan Gibson gave an impassioned plea to retain internet voting, stating that people shop online and pay their bills online and they should be able to vote online too. He said removing the option is a step backwards and away from democracy.
“We’re a progressive community but this is a regressive decision,” he said.
Council also voted not to go paperless in 2018, citing the comfort and security of a paper trail in the case of a recount. But they did support the use of vote scanners and tabulators to assist in the vote count.
The vote still has ratified at the council meeting on April 24.