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CSA Says Yes to Online Voting

Friday, January 19, 2007

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Written by May Warren

At their meeting on Wednesday night the members of the CSA voted yes to online voting. The board members voted 17 to 2 to accept a report from last year’s general elections, which called for an online voting system to be put in place. Although details remain unclear and undecided, this vote will set in motion a process, which will probably result in some sort of online voting in time for this year's CSA general elections.

Charles Beatty, Chief Electoral Officer for the CSA, says the two biggest advantages of a system of online voting would be paper conservation and increased voter turnout. It would also save money. Although it is a relatively new field with little hard statistics to compare, Beatty cites the example of the city of Markham, which used a system of voting in their 2006 municipal elections and saw a voter turnout rate of about 48 per cent.

However, not everyone agreed. “Ryerson, U of T and York all tried it in student government elections and all three of them eventually went back to paper ballots,” says Academic Commissioner Becky Wallace who voted against online voting, citing the example of electoral fraud at York as a worst-case scenario.

John Coombs, External Commissioner and member of the original committee that came up with the recommendation said security concerns about the process are unfounded. “We addressed every mistake that they made,” he replied, in response to the electoral fraud at York.

“We are disengaging students from the democratic process,” argued Local Affairs Commissioner Bre Walt who believes that with online voting more people will vote without knowing what they are voting for, which is not the goal of an election. She worried about removing the security aspect of a scrutiner in polling stations and said online voting would require the amendment or suspension of a lot of CSA by-laws. “I think we are making a big mistake,” she added.

However Beatty responded that the online plan would require changing “surprisingly little “ in terms of bylaws and argued that security concerns are exaggerated.“We have to look it from both sides, there’s the possibility of machine error but there’s always the possibility of human error with a traditional campaign,” he argued adding, “It's easier to steal a box of ballots from a polling station then to hack into the system.”

Despite the controversy the motion did pass and a process to begin online voting in the March 2007 elections has been put into place. Whether it will be finalized by the date is still up in the air, as is whether students will be able to vote from any computer or just specific kiosks in the UC.

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