Internet voting pilot could launch in Canada after 2013

The organization responsible for conducting federal elections in Canada says it wants to undertake a pilot of Internet voting in a special election sometime after 2013.

Elections Canada, in an Aug. 17 report on the country's general election held on May 2, says Canadians increasingly expect to conduct business electronically, "including when they engage in the electrical process."

As a result, the agency is preparing to provide e-services; in addition to seeking approval for a test of Internet voting in a by-election, the commission says Parliament should amend Canadian electoral law to provide for online voter registration. Current electoral law allows for limited online registration, the report says, and some provinces--Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario--have already gone ahead with development of such a system.

Questions of integrity and verifiability have mostly kept Internet voting an aspirational goal rather than a reality, however. The city of Washington, D.C. closed down a 2010 pilot project to permit online ballot casting from overseas and military voters after researchers from the University of Michigan hacked into the system within 36 hours. As a demonstration of their ability to control the electoral server, they configured the vote confirmation screen to play the University of Michigan fight song; district officials canceled rollout of the pilot.

The Elections Canada report also calls for revocation of a Canadian law which prohibits "premature" transmission of election results, resulting in a ban of electoral result disclosure on the Internet until all Canadian polling stations have closed. Violators are subject to a C$25,000 fine.

The growing use of social media puts in question not only the practical enforceability of the rule, "but also its very intelligibility and usefulness in a world where the distinction between private communication and public transmission is quickly eroding," the report says.

Defiant Canadian Twitter users protested the law during the last election by Tweeting the results anyway during the blackout period. Elections Canada doesn't appear to have charged any of the violators.   

Two Canadian broadcasters, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and Bell Media, have challenged the constitutionality of the law before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice; the court plans to hear the case in March 2012, the report says.  

For more:
- download the Chief Electoral Office of Canada report on the May 2, 2011 election (.pdf)

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