Elections Nova Scotia has unveiled a “e-balloting” system to be used in early voting for the upcoming Preston riding byelection.
In January, Liberal MLA Angela Simmonds announced she was stepping down from her position effective April 1. By law, the legislature must call an election within six months of that date (that is, by October 1), and the election must be held between 30 and 46 days after the writ is dropped, on a Tuesday. That means Election Day can be no later than November 14.
Early voting will start 20 days before Election Day, which is also the day candidate nominations close. At that point, people can go into polling places and use the e-balloting machines to cast a vote. On Election Day itself, traditional paper ballots will be used.
E-ballots versus internet voting
The e-balloting system was developed in-house by Elections Nova Scotia. The system is simple for the voter.
As usual, the voter will be greeted by a returning officer who will give the voter a paper slip with a bar code. The voter will then go to a private voting booth, scan the bar code into a reader, and the ballot will appear on the screen of a nearby tablet. The screen will prompt the voter to choose a candidate, and cast the vote. While the voter has already voted electronically, a paper receipt is printed showing how the voter voted, and that receipt is placed in a ballot box, to be used only in the case of recounts.
Visually impaired voters can enlarge the screen, and there’s a braille overlay system similar to that already used for paper ballots available. An audio vote system is not yet available, but is being developed.
The electronic vote is not stored on the machine, but rather is stored on the cloud — that is, on a Microsoft Azure server, which Elections Nova Scotia officials say is in Canada. They also say they are confident that the system is secure.
An increasingly large percentage of votes are cast during the early voting period, but those votes aren’t counted until after the polls close on Election Day. In the past, that has required dozens of Elections workers toiling well into the night, sometimes as late as 1:30am and later. But with the e-balloting system, results will be returned “within minutes,” and the election should be called as soon as the paper ballots cast on Election Day are counted, which typically takes about an hour.
The e-balloting system should not be confused with internet voting, which is done remotely by the voter on their own computer. So far, for provincial elections, internet voting is only used for military personnel stationed overseas.
Elections Nova Scotia says it will use the e-balloting system for all early voting in the 2025 general election, but again not on Election Day itself in that election. The hope is to move to a complete e-balloting system for the election after that, but doing so will require new legislation.