Guess what, Newmarket? A strong majority of local residents who voted online for the first time in the October 2018 municipal election reported they are “very satisfied” with the experience, a new survey shows.
What’s more, Newmarket’s younger voters aged 18 to 34 appear to buck a trend in reporting they are more satisfied with the online voting experience than their peers in other Ontario municipalities, a leading expert on electoral modernization says.
“This is a great finding that I’ve never seen before,” said Dr. Nicole Goodman, an assistant professor of political science at Brock University and director of the Centre for eDemocracy, who is the lead researcher of the 2018 Internet Voting Study (IVS).
The IVS is the largest survey of its kind so far in Canada that aims to better understand how electors feel about voting technology, and its impact on improving voter turnout, convenience and accessibility. Newmarket was one of 31 Ontario municipalities that participated.
Goodman delivered a presentation to a special committee of the whole meeting May 14 on the Newmarket-specific results of the survey, about which more than 7,000 people, or 39 per cent of the 17,871 people who cast their ballots electronically, voluntarily completed. It was the highest response rate of the entire 31 municipalities that participated.
“What’s striking about the findings here is typically we see somewhat strong satisfaction with online voting among all age groups but, often times, it’s middle-aged voters who are most satisfied,” Goodman said. “It’s typically not young people who are the main users of online voting, contrary to popular opinion. Research shows that young people prefer to vote by paper because it’s a rite of passage, it’s one of their first experiences.”
Goodman also busted some other myths about online voting, such as it leads to lower voter turnout and that older voters won’t use online voting.
“Actually, older electors love online voting, it makes things so much more convenient for them,” Goodman said. “Online voters are typically a little older, more educated, have higher household incomes, and less habitual voting histories.”
However, voters 65 and over are the least likely to report being satisfied overall with online voting, as was the case in Newmarket.
On the subject of voter turnout in Newmarket’s 2018 election (35 per cent), which saw a two-per cent dip over the 2014 election (37 per cent), but one per cent higher than 2010, Goodman cautioned council not to overreact.
“Do not be concerned about the lack of turnout and the fact it dropped two per cent, that is not a consequence of online voting,” she said. “It’s a consequence of a combination of factors, so please don’t point to that and say online voting does not increase turnout, that is not true.”
Goodman has been studying and leading projects that examine the implementation of technology in elections for more than a decade. She said her research, and that of others studying the subject, shows that elections are “highly contextual in terms of voter participation”.
“I don’t want anybody to be premature and say online voting does not increase turnout,” said Goodman. “A number of factors affect turnout, for example, if there is a competitive mayoral race. We know if competitiveness is a factor, it drives up turnout. As well, if there are issues that fire people up, that gets them out to vote.”
Here are some highlights of Newmarket voters’ views about their experience voting online:
- Extremely high response rate with 52,914 surveys completed among 31 municipalities who used online voting in the 2018 municipal election. Newmarket’s response rate was 39.43 per cent, or 7,048 out of the 17,871 people who voted online. Average response rates for a self-selected, voluntary survey of this kind hover between 10 and 18 per cent.
- 94 per cent of respondents in Newmarket are satisfied with online voting, with 77 per cent reporting they are very satisfied.
- There is strong satisfaction among all age groups. It is highest among those aged 18 to 54, grouping fairly and very satisfied together. Those over 65 are least satisfied overall.
- Nearly half of respondents said elections with paper ballots are just as risky as elections where voting is electronic, with 24 per cent disagreeing.
- Half of respondents agree that paper voting is not needed in municipal elections where internet voting is available, with 34 per cent disagreeing.
- Top concerns related to security, fraud and privacy, with nearly half of respondents reporting these as their top issues. Meanwhile, 39 per cent have no concerns.
- As reasons for not voting in 2014, Newmarket voters overwhelmingly listed lack of interest and everyday life issues as reasons, such as being too busy with work, providing care for children.
- Convenience was cited by 65 per cent of Newmarket voters as the reason they voted online, with nine per cent saying they found it interesting and wanted to try something new. About 14 per cent said it was the only option offered.
- Top source of information about the election and how to vote was the town’s voter information letter (77 per cent), followed by news (35 per cent).
- Just over 39 per cent of respondents said they have no concerns about online voting, with a combined 43 per cent reporting concerns such as security and hacking, fraud, privacy, replacing voting traditions, and lack of internet access.
- Ten per cent of Newmarket voters said they would not have voted without online voting, while 10 per cent also said they did not vote in 2014 but were eligible to do so.
- The reasons Newmarket residents gave for not voting include everyday life issues at 47 per cent, 44 per cent said lack of interest, and nine per cent cited administrative issues, such as problems with registration and the voters' list.
- What about those who are left out? Digital disenfranchisement and literacy should be a consideration for the 2022 municipal election.
- A custom question that the Town of Newmarket added asked residents is why they choose to vote online instead of by phone: 65 per cent said convenience.