Establishing a Legal Framework for E-voting in Canada

This paper was written by Dr. Bryan Schwartz and myself and published by Elections Canada in 2013. Our goal in drafting this paper was not to recommend internet voting or make a conclusion on the risks but rather to make recommendations about what legal framework and regulations should be in place prior to introducing e-voting in order to mitigate the risks.

Basics:

Canadians have a constitutional right to vote that requires the government to make reasonable efforts to facilitate their ability to exercise their franchise. Even before the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada’s legal framework for voting had been constantly evolving to increase access to voting.

One of the ways that has been discussed to increase access to the electoral system is to allow Canadians to cast a vote using a computer, either from home over the Internet or in a controlled environment, such as a voting kiosk in a designated polling area. This is commonly referred to as e-voting, and is slowly being adopted for local, regional and national elections in jurisdictions around the world.

E-voting can serve as an alternative means of voting in addition to in-person, mail-in and advanced voting. The electoral authority would administer it, and it could either be limited to voters who have difficulty getting to the polls (such as disabled or absentee voters) or available to all eligible Canadians.

The authors of this paper acknowledge that there are legitimate concerns with how e-voting would work and whether technological problems or malicious acts could pose a serious threat to the integrity of an election. We are also keenly aware that our democratic system requires voters to have confidence in the voting process.

[...]
The goal of this paper is to recommend a legal framework for e-voting in Canadian federal electoral events. The research consisted of conducting extensive case studies of other jurisdictions’ legal frameworks and experiences, which were then synthesized to present the most pertinent details. Based on this literature review, we present our findings and recommendations on what should be included in a Canadian framework.

The goal of this paper is not to advocate for or against e-voting, but rather to identify what issues a legal framework should address to minimize the risks associated with e-voting and ensure that Canadians can have confidence in the process.

At the minimum, e-voting should be as secure and reliable as special balloting currently conducted by mail. Ideally, it should also meet the following attributes and values that Canadians currently have under the paper-based system:

• facilitated accessibility and reasonable accommodation
• voter anonymity
• fairness
• accurate and prompt results
• comprehensible and transparent processes
• system security and risk assessment
• detection of problems and remedial contingencies
• legislative certainty and finality
• effective and independent oversight
• cost justification and efficiency

None of these values are absolute, and even the constitutional right to vote may be reasonably limited or rely on trade-offs among conflicting values.

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