Making a shift to casting local and provincial ballots online won't have much effect on voter turnout numbers, suggests a new report on Internet voting in B.C.
A panel tasked with investigating best practices around implementing Internet voting released their preliminary report Wednesday, featuring recommendations open to public input before a final report goes before the Legislative Assembly early next year.
The group, chaired by B.C. chief electoral officer Keith Archer, examined data from other jurisdictions that have already used Internet voting.
An increase in turnout was looked at as a potential advantage, but Archer said there's neither a consistent relationship between online voting and higher turnout numbers, nor a correlation between casting votes on the Internet and increased participation by young people.
"Both of those findings led the panel to conclude that moving toward Internet voting in British Columbia is likely not the panacea for the challenges of declining voter turnout that we've seen in the last generation or so," said Archer.
The five-member panel was formed in the fall of 2012 following an unsuccessful 2011 request from the city of Vancouver to use Internet voting for their municipal elections. The province's Elections Act does not have any provisions for voting over the Internet or by phone. The Independent Panel on Internet Voting consists of experts in local government and computer science.
Chief among the group's recommendations was that the province not go ahead with universal online voting at this time.
"However, if Internet voting is implemented on a limited basis, jurisdictions need to recognize that the risks to the accuracy of the voting results remain substantial," the report said.
A variety of challenges still lay in the path of bringing in the practice, Archer said, including the inherent risks of removing voting from an environment where it can be easily monitored.
"It's not like banking online, it's not like dating online, it's not like purchasing goods online," Archer said.
Difficulties arise when you have to authenticate a person's identity and then separate that identity from their ballot.
"So it's a unique challenge to an election administration agency. I'm not saying that it's a challenge that cannot be met. But what this report is suggesting is that at the current time, we're not there yet for universal internet voting," said Archer.
Where the group did find potential benefits through online voting was in the realm of increasing access and convenience for the electorate, especially in local government elections given their November date.
"In many communities in B.C., the snow and other bad weather common at that time of year can make it difficult for voters to attend in-person to vote," the report said.
A six-week public consultation period on the report wraps up Dec. 4. The entire report can be viewed and feedback submitted online at internetvotingpanel.ca.
"If our research is misdirected, if we got it wrong, this is the time to provide input and to set it straight," said Archer.