April 15, 2024

For our disabled community, we must consider online voting.

This week’s Market Squared is already looking ahead to 2026 (and we’re only in 2024)

Happy 2024! Let’s talk about 2026!!

Well, let’s talk about the 2026 municipal elections to be a little more precise.

If you follow the Accessibility Advisory Committee like I do, then you know that this has been a pretty big topic of conversation throughout 2023, and as we enter the new year, the topic will move to the next level: a recommendation.

You don’t need to have followed the debate at the committee level to know that there has been a lot of discussion about how accessible our local elections have been, especially since the council opted to discontinue the use of internet voting in 2017.

Over the course of the last two elections, members of our disability community have tried to argue that our elections are not accessible to everyone, first by trying to maintain online voting and then, in 2021, advocating for a form of voting to be allowed where disabled people could use their assistive devices, such as screen readers, to mark their ballots and then print and mail them.

What is at stake is something that many of us take for granted every day: independence. What the AAC and the people they represent are looking for is an opportunity to be able to cast their votes with the same relative safety and non-interference that the rest of us have because no one believes that an able-bodied person needs the help of another person to cast our vote. vote.

This is where things like the Vote at Home pilot failed in the 2022 election. Yes, sending poll workers to a voter’s home to deliver a ballot and pick it up again offers secure voting, but it hardly promotes a sense of independence for the voter. voter, since he has to invite a stranger to his house just to exercise his right to vote.

Ideally, this situation would be resolved with the reestablishment of online voting. It’s a tough sell because Guelph’s political class remains so consistently technophobic that the term “Luddite” is not entirely inaccurate. That’s why for the past few years I’ve been calling on the City of Guelph to have a town hall of sorts to lay out all the potential security issues surrounding online voting and possible ways to counteract them.

If online voting is on the table, we will no doubt hear about “Robocalls,” the 13-year-old scandal in which Guelph voters were diverted from their polling places by an automated phone message sent to thousands of voters. people almost simultaneously. Those scars still run deep, especially because most of the perpetrators of the scam remain unpunished.

But here’s the thing: The Robocall scam was notably low-fidelity, meaning it didn’t require any kind of technological know-how to pull off. Nothing was hacked and no one managed to get through the back door with a “rubber duck” or a server farm in Eastern Europe. All it took was a prepaid credit card, a burner phone, and a really fake fake name.

And yes, there is reason to suspect that malign actors could take advantage of an opportunity to attack a municipality in the midst of a partially online-enabled election. Do I think Russia is going to hack the 2026 Guelph election? Of course not. I’m more worried about the proverbial guy in the basement who just wants to watch the world burn.

That being said, what makes Election Day better than any other day to attack a city? Or a library for that matter? Last fall, cyberattacks occurred on two different municipal library systems in Ontario, including Toronto, and it begs the question what can be gained from such an attack. The reasons for ruining an election are pretty obvious, but hacking the library? Bit strange.

One of the biggest security issues should be addressed come the 2026 elections, because local elections in Ontario should no longer use the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) to provide the list of electors. Instead, we will use the Ontario Elections list, conveniently updated thanks to the provincial elections regularly scheduled for spring 2026.

And if you’re interested in getting online voting back on the table, then the political tides may be in your favor. There was an infusion of youth in the last election that could get enough votes to make online voting a possibility again in 2026, but I want to offer some caveats because, as much as I am in favor of the tool to help our community of disabled. , I am worried that it will become a crutch.

What does that mean? I don’t even want to get into the convenience argument because between mail-in voting, advanced polling (usually over the long Thanksgiving weekend), and 12 hours of Election Day there is no reason why the vast majority of people cannot vote, and even though I have personally been excited by the idea of ​​Internet voting, I am still concerned about the perception of electing our local government as if it were just another Internet poll.

But that’s a secondary concern to the issue of accessibility, which I want to return to because I’ve enjoyed watching the AAC’s drive and enthusiasm as they pushed staff and the clerk’s office to be more accommodating. In the process, they have done what any good advisory committee should do: defend intensely the interest group they represent despite the advice of staff.

On the staff side, the problem is that they have limited time and resources, which means they can only offer many voting options. The CAA’s recommendation before Christmas was basically a request for staff to implement as many alternative voting methods as possible, but that is neither an easy nor cheap task.

Ultimately, the secretariat will have to first enact the alternative voting method that engages the greatest number of people, and it will inevitably be Internet voting. At that point, it will be up to the rest of us to either) find a way to adapt that method to work within our security concerns, or b) reject it entirely and close the door on members of our community who continually fight for accommodation.

I know which option is representative of the supportive and forward-thinking community that many Guelphites believe we have, but is that the reality? Hopefully, we will have the time to do this right and the wisdom to listen to our disability community when they tell us what they need.

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