Opposition Leader James Aylward is calling on government to adopt electronic voting in P.E.I. for the next provincial election, in spite of concerns raised by a panel of independent auditors about the potential for serious security breaches.
Aylward issued the call earlier this week via press release, saying electronic voting could be a way to revolutionize democratic accessibility and increase voter engagement.
“It’s the way of the future,” he told The Guardian Thursday.
“We are very proud of our voter turnout here in P.E.I. and I would certainly hate to see that start to slide as … this technology would allow people to participate in the democratic process even more.”
He pointed out Internet voting was by far the most popular of three voting methods offered to electors in the 2016 plebiscite on electoral reform, with 81 per cent of ballots being cast electronically.
He also noted electronic voting is increasingly being used in leadership votes and municipal elections across the country.
P.E.I.’s 2016 plebiscite on electoral reform was the first province-wide electronic vote ever held in Canada. Because this introduced possible new risks, an independent audit of the results was required by the province’s Plebiscites Act.
This audit, which was performed by a panel of electoral IT experts from across Canada, raised some major red flags about security risks associated with e-voting.
The general conclusion was that P.E.I.'s plebiscite "maintained a high level of integrity," but this was in spite of “major risks involved,” including the possibility of results being compromised by hackers.
“This is of particular concern when the possibility exists of state-sponsored, large conglomerate-sponsored or any other well-funded threat actors,” the audit report stated.
“This may very well be the context for a federal or provincial binding referendum or parliamentary election, depending on the then-political climate.”
An additional report from Simply Voting, which administered the e-voting for the Island’s plebiscite, went even further, recommending against the use of internet voting for federal elections – despite the fact it is a major Canadian Internet voting vendor.
Hacker groups like Anonymous or state-sponsored threats such as Russia or China could compromise results of elections, Simply Voting president Brian Lack said in his report.
The auditors’ report further noted other risks associated with online voting that would be difficult to mitigate, including vote buying, vote secrecy and determining whether a voter has been coerced.
But Aylward pointed to the part of the audit report that said the plebiscite “maintained a high level of integrity.”
“We’re a small enough province and nimble enough that we can make this happen, and I just think it would be great to have Prince Edward Island to show leadership in this process and show the rest of Canada, the rest of the world, essentially, that we’re leading.”
It doesn’t appear Aylward suggestion will be enacted anytime soon.
A spokeswoman for the premier’s office said Thursday any move toward e-voting is not on the agenda.
“Prince Edward Island should feel proud of its high level of voter engagement as a leader in the country,” she said, pointing to the concerns outlined in the 2016 plebiscite audit report.
“At this time government is not actively considering introducing electronic voting.”
The Guardian did attempt to reach P.E.I.’s chief electoral officer Tim Garrity for comment, but was unable to connect with him before deadline.