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Province backs online voting trials

Nov 22 2011
Elections B.C. wants permission to run pilot projects on online voting and other new technologies, chief electoral officer Keith Archer said in a report tabled in the legislature. 

Elections B.C. wants permission to run pilot projects on online voting and other new technologies, chief electoral officer Keith Archer said in a report tabled in the legislature.

Photograph by: Adrian Lam, Victoria Times Colonist, November 2011

B.C. could soon be testing Internet voting after a formal request to try the idea received a verbal endorsement from the provincial government Monday.

Elections B.C. wants permission to run pilot projects on online voting and other new technologies, chief electoral officer Keith Archer said in a report tabled in the legislature.

The independent elections agency wants the freedom to try new technologies and look at security issues, Archer said.

"We want to have the mandate to at least have the exploration of this topic," he said.

Elections B.C. released a discussion paper on the subject in September, concluding Internet voting could make it more convenient but also presents more security risks than in-person voting.

"I love the idea," said Attorney General Shirley Bond, who would be responsible for amending the Elections Act to accommodate Archer's wishes.

"I'm currently working on how we will put in place an expert panel that will look at online voting in British Columbia."

Premier Christy Clark has also expressed support, said Bond, but the technology chosen needs to be safe and secure.

"We simply have to look at the elections that took place over the weekend, and need to make sure we're looking at how we get our participation numbers up," said Bond.

Province-wide turnout for municipal elections Saturday was 29.51 per cent of eligible voters, compared with 23 per cent in 2008.

Langford posted the worst participation rate in B.C. with 13.98 per cent. Esquimalt was close behind at 17.99 per cent.

Online voting changes proposed by Elections B.C. would apply only to provincial elections.

But several municipalities have asked the government for permission to use Internet voting locally, and the minister responsible, Ida Chong, said Monday "there's an appetite" to look at granting such requests in the future.

Voter turnout in provincial elections may be higher than the municipal rate but it has also been steadily falling.

Participation among 18- to 24-year-olds is the worst, with only 27 per cent of eligible youth voters casting ballots in the 2009 provincial general election.

Elections B.C. has also asked government for permission to pre-register 16- and 17-year-olds to the official voters list so they are automatically eligible to vote provincially when they turn 18. Archer said he hopes that would coincide with civics classes.

"On the surface I like the idea," said Bond.

But there was little talk about lowering the voting age.

Health Minister Mike de Jong proposed, during the Liberal party leadership race this year, lowering the voting age to 16.

He said Monday the idea remains "a little more adventurous" than some MLAs may be comfortable with, but something has to be done. Declining voter turnout is "very troubling" and de Jong said he's pleased to see Elections B.C. trying to address it.

Bond said she's not sure whether lowering the voting age is a good idea.

rfshaw@timescolonist.com

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