The next time Nova Scotians go to the polls, they’ll only have to log on to cast a vote.
Elections Nova Scotia (ENS) issued a request for proposals (RFP) on Tuesday seeking a “a Nova Scotia Internet Voting Solution.”
In 2020, the government introduced amendments to the Elections Act to allow internet voting, particularly for people in the armed forces stationed out of province. The amendments were proclaimed in 2021, but an RFP for armed forces e-voting was cancelled, according to the provincial tenders site.
Now, the independent elections agency wants to make the digital option available for all voters.
“ENS intends to extend to all Nova Scotia eligible electors the option to cast their vote using the Internet in upcoming election events, when possible,” the RFP says.
ENS plans “to enter into a non-exclusive agreement with a vendor who is an acknowledged market leader and who can demonstrate experience and expertise in delivering, implementing, and supporting similar Internet Voting Solutions to government and large organizations of comparable size and complexity as for ENS for the province.”
ENS is looking for technical and financial plans in response to the RFP from companies that can manage the growing number of Nova Scotian electors, estimated to be 770,000.
“The solution must be able to register and authenticate those electors who wish to vote by the Internet Channel and allow them to cast their vote online, provide a controlled process to generate their vote counts, and report the results of the internet voting channel after the close of polls on election day,” the RFP says.
“The proposed services will also include a secure hosting infrastructure, project management, and system monitoring throughout the election event.”
Internet voting, or e-voting, has gained in popularity in municipal and other elections over the past decade or more, particularly in Nova Scotia and Ontario.
Provincial governments have been hesitant to adopt the technology, citing concerns around. But Prince Edward Island used it for a plebiscite and the Northwest Territories used it for remote areas during a general election.
In an April 2021 Election Readiness Update, Nova Scotia chief electoral officer Richard Temporale noted ENS was readying internet voting for Canadian Forces, but not for the general population.
“While we are preparing to have an internet voting solution on the shelf for Canadian military stationed outside of the province, it has not been my intent, nor the election commission’s advice, that it’s [sic] use be extended to other groups of voters,” Temporale wrote.
“Should it be the members of the Legislative Assembly’s will to broaden its usage to other voters within Nova Scotia in a future election, having this initial solution developed would put the province in a good position to consider a broader implementation.”
Further amendments to the Elections Act in November 2021 to fix election dates didn’t change anything with respect to internet voting, but ENS is moving in this direction anyway.
The next general election is scheduled for July 15, 2025. Presumably the technology would be used for any by-elections in the interim.
Dartmouth company Intelivote System Inc. is likely to respond to the RFP. As the Halifax Examiner reported earlier this month, the company successfully restructured its debt, allowing millions in publicly-funded loans to go unpaid.
The USA is going the other way– all paper ballots. Why?
According to the Brennan Center for Justice in the US:
“Experts widely recognize paper ballots as one of the most important security measures that states can adopt. When selections are recorded on paper, voters can easily verify that their ballot accurately reflects their choices. Paper ballots also facilitate post-election audits, where election workers can check the paper records against electronic vote totals to confirm that voting machines are working as intended.”
In my opinion, paper balloting should continue for the purposes of auditing.
Errors in the count don’t just impact the seats in the Legislature. Media companies allocate coverage of political parties based on how many votes they received. Political parties receive a stipend per vote received. Every vote matters.
Guaranteed law suits for the province when you realize that there can be no recount of electronic votes because that would require the original ballot, which exists only on the voter’s computer until the browser cache is cleared.
Then there’s the challenge of proving that the vote you cast is actually what was counted, because even simple glitches in the software on the computer, the wireless router, the internet modem, and the rest of the chain of custody all the way to the server that registers the votes can alter the outcome. In order to prove that the vote was valid, you’d need a way to audit the chain of custody for every single vote, which no vendor provides.
Finally there’s the problem with the secrecy of the vote and undue pressures in the home. I was a scrutineer for a campaign once at a long term care facility and the residents were guided through the process by staff who had clearly been talking to the residents about politics beforehand. The staff even wanted to sit with the residents as they voted, which I had to put a stop to.