10/23/2013 01:35 EDT | Updated 12/23/2013 05:12 EST

B.C. Internet Voting May Not Increase Turnout, Says Report

VICTORIA - Internet voting requires more fine tuning — especially when it comes to eliminating security risks — before it can be widely used in provincial and municipal elections, says an independent report released Wednesday by British Columbia's elections agency.

The report, produced by a panel appointed by Elections BC, also warns that online voting may not necessarily lead to higher voter turnout and cheaper elections.

The 100-page report concludes it is still too early to move to Internet voting in B.C., including for next year's municipal elections, with security remaining the top barrier.

"At the current time, we're not there yet for universal Internet voting," B.C.'s chief electoral officer, Keith Archer, told a news conference in Victoria.

"The overall conclusion that people will likely draw from this report is it's cautionary. It suggests that there are still lots of challenges to be worked out in the application of Internet voting in a public election in B.C."

The panel's preliminary report, which kicks off six weeks of public consultations, recommends provincial and municipal governments launch a provincewide examination of Internet voting. The report says such a process should include the creation of a technical committee to evaluate online voting systems.

The panel concluded providing secure Internet voting is the "most significant of all the challenges."

The report identifies three potential security concerns for Internet voting systems: the voters' own device; the transmission of votes to the server; and the election server itself.

It cites a July 2013 letter written by a group of American computer scientists to a Virginia state legislative commission. The scientists wrote: "The technology necessary to support Internet voting while also protecting the integrity of the election and voter privacy does not yet exist."

The report also downplays the potential effect Internet voting could have on voter turnout or the cost of elections. Common arguments in favour of Internet voting are that allowing citizens to cast ballots online will boost participation while cutting costs.

While the report says Internet voting would, indeed, make it more convenient for people who already intend to vote, it suggests non-voters wouldn't necessarily be enticed to cast ballots simply because there was an online option.

"The evidence for Internet voting to lead to increased voter turn out in B.C. elections appears to be at best mixed, and the panel is not convinced that introducing Internet voting in B.C. will result in increased voter turn out at either the local or provincial level in the long run," the report says.

Justice Minister Suzanne Anton issued a brief written statement that said the provincial government won't be considering possible changes until the panel's final report is ready next year.

"It is an idea worth considering, but we were always clear that security of information had to be assured," said Anton, whose ministry first requested Elections BC look into the issue.

Opposition New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix said he supports attempts to encourage more people to participate in the electoral process, including examining Internet voting.

"There are issues to be dealt with and that's what, I think, the panel was reflecting," he said.

Dix said he supports efforts to register young B.C. voters in high school before they reach the voting age of 18.

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