Whitehorse Daily Star

City council spurns online voting concept

After listening to two presentations from a Whitehorse resident, city council decided Monday evening not to introduce online voting for this October’s municipal election.

By Whitehorse Star on May 14, 2024

Revised - After listening to two presentations from a Whitehorse resident, city council decided Monday evening not to introduce online voting for this October’s municipal election.

The relevant provisions from the lengthy bylaw covering the election will be removed.

For the second straight week, Daniel Sokolov, an innovative journalist and IT security reporter for more than two decades, appeared Monday before council members.

He repeated some of the arguments he’d made at the May 6 standing committees meeting, including a reference to his research showing that online voting fails to motivate those who don’t currently vote.

Online voting creates no positive nor negative effect on voters, Sokolov reiterated Monday, especially on young ones.

Conversely, the ability to vote by mail “does increase voter turnout quite a bit,” he told council.

In 2000, Sokolov said, Arizona Democrats experimented with online voting in the federal election primaries.

The non-white vote dropped by 36 per cent from the 1996 primaries and the white vote fell by seven per cent, Sokolov reported.

The amendment to drop online voting provisions from the bylaw was forwarded by Coun. Ted Laking.

“This was brought forward to ensure the integrity of Whitehorse municipal elections and to reduce the risk of foreign interference in the electoral process,” Laking said in a statement Tuesday.

“We have seen foreign governments take a major interest in interfering in the political process in our country, either through attempting to influence nomination races for federal parties or to suppress the vote.

“Why would we open the door and put ourselves at an increased risk of foreign interference at a time when everybody else is raising red flags?” he asked.

During Monday’s debate, Laking brought up research from Ontario’s Western University indicating that there are still significant concerns and challenges with ensuring the integrity of online voting in Canada.

These challenges include risks such as vote selling or coercion due to the unsupervised nature of Internet voting, he noted.

They also include phishing, client-side malware, and denial of service cyber-attacks.

“At a time of increasing polarization in our political world, ensuring the integrity and trust in our election processes is paramount,” added Laking.

“That said, in order to encourage further participation and engagement, it was clear throughout the discussion that we need to do more to enhance things such as mobile polls or even just ensuring our polling stations are accessible with infrastructure such as ramps.”

Every council member except Mayor Laura Cabott supported Laking’s amendment.

Councillors stated a number of reasons for their decision, such as the fact that online voting does not increase voter turnout, risks to the integrity of the election, IT security, and loss of the community nature of voting, where parents can teach their children about democracy.

“I’m glad city council made the right decision,” Sokolov said after the vote.

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