Monday, December 20, 2010

The spectre of Internet voting turns up in Manitoba

It seems some municipal officials want to introduce Internet voting:

Plans are already in the works for the next municipal election in 2014 that advance polls in Winnipeg will include the Internet.

"If you want to continue serving the people you serve, you've got to meet their expectations," city clerk Richard Kachur said. "It's also important for the next generation coming up. They use the Internet far more than anyone else. They expect it."

From the Free Press (h/t PolicyFrog). It's a seductive idea, to be sure; even decent folk like Joe Pantalone have advocated it. And it's in use already in some places, but does that mean we should follow their example? I don't see any way of ensuring that the vote isn't rigged by hackers, and even if you could guarantee beyond a reasonable doubt that it couldn't be rigged, it would be a lot harder to convince voters of this. It would undermine the legitimacy of the winner, too. At least now, I can accept that Sam Katz (and Rob Ford, for that matter) won fair and square. I might lament the narrow-mindedness of the voters who put them there, but I can't dispute their legitimacy. But if they had won their positions through Internet voting, a lot of people would be skeptical - perhaps to the point where they wouldn't bother voting next time, since the fix is in. Which is exactly the opposite of what the proponents of Internet voting want. And that's not even counting the fact that some would likely conclude that they ought to try to "un-fix" the next election (i.e. fix it in the other direction).

It's also worth noting that Internet voting could actually worsten the tendency for the poor to be underrepresented at the polls. Laziness spans class boundaries, but if those who can afford a computer and an Internet connection find it easier to vote than those who can't, this will further disenfranchise the poor.

Finally, you have to be suspicious of an idea that is promoted using bogus arguments. And PolicyFrog has found one in the article - U of M political scientist Jared Wesley, who thinks online voting is just grand, tossed out the old chestnut that "more people voted on American Idol than the American president". Sounds shocking, but it isn't true, as Froggy points out:

The 2008 U.S. Election drew over 131 million votes, while the biggest American Idol finale brought in about 100 million.

Furthermore, fans can vote multiple times on Idol. Given that the viewing audience for a finale ranges from 20 million to 30 million, and only a portion of those people actually vote, then it’s clear that waaaaaaaay more people cast a ballot for President than Idol. And don’t even get me started on votes cast by those over the age of 18…

So does anyone still think online voting is necessary or desirable? Fortunately, the city can't implement this without the province's co-operation, and the provincial NDP has shown no interest in this folly to my knowledge.

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