Citizens may be able to remotely vote over the Internet to elect their mayor and council as early as 2014.
Union of B.C. Municipalities delegates voted by a two-to-one margin on Thursday to urge the province to lay the groundwork to allow online voting as an option three years from now.
Advocates of the idea say it could reverse a trend of sagging voter turnout, while detractors worry casting a ballot may no longer be secret, opening the door to vote-tampering by interest groups out to sway the result.
“I really think three years from now we’ll see a whole different set of rules governing the election,” said Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard. “I think people’s appetites are actually quite looking forward to that change – unfortunately those changes couldn’t come in time for 2011.”
Just 21 per cent of Saanich voters turned out in the last election, while the provincial average is 35 per cent for civic elections.
“We should be interested in looking at any opportunity to engage more voters,” said Saanich mayoral candidate David Cubberley, a former councillor and MLA for Saanich South. “It’s a good idea because … Saanich has a deplorably low voting rate.”
On Wednesday, White Rock Coun. Lynne Sinclair dismissed another delegate’s suggestion that many seniors aren’t tech-savvy and wouldn’t benefit.
She said one Ontario city that allows online voting found most users are seniors with mobility problems.
Saanich will have mail-in voting this year for the first time, which the chief electoral officer hopes will help people who have trouble physically making it to the polls.
“Online voting is fraught with danger,” said Sunshine Coast Regional District director Donna Shugar. “You don’t know who is in the room with a voter coercing or persuading them. We do not allow people to go in the polling booth with other people when they are voting.”
When the voting booth becomes your computer in your home, she said, such restrictions and safeguards will no longer exist.
“This isn’t being forced on anyone,” countered Kelowna Coun. Kevin Craig. “If it’s not right for your community, you’re not being railroaded into it.”
Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Ida Chong has promised to pursue the idea, which would require a change of legislation and time to sort out the technological issues.
Another tradition that will definitely end in 2014 is November voting.
From that year on, local voting will happen in October.
The election date change was approved by the province in response to a UBCM vote a year ago.
– with files from Kyle Slavin