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Online voting a breeze for residents who came out to practise

With paper ballots no longer an option for upcoming municipal election, the Town of Newmarket is aiming to ease the transition before advance voting begins Oct. 13

Newmarket resident Paul Cottenden bucks the trend when it comes to municipal elections — he wouldn't miss the chance to cast his ballot.

“People have worked so hard in countries around the world for that right,” Cottenden said at the open house at town hall last night for the upcoming Oct. 22 election.

The proverbial red carpet was rolled out for residents interested in taking a practice shot at voting online — which they will actually do for the first time next month — and learning about security protocols and third-party auditors who make the electronic voting vendor’s private, blockchain technology hack-proof, and more.

As Cottenden began a practice session by voting for fictitious municipal candidates, he said the process was much easier than he thought. Log in, vote, review your choices, and confirm.

“I was a little worried, but it’s very simple to follow,” he said, adding that he hasn’t yet decided who will get his actual vote in the election. “The reason I like it is you can vote in the comfort of your own home.”

Beginning next week, residents who are on the municipal voters list will receive by mail a voter instruction letter that will include a 16-digit voting PIN, or personal identification number, and detailed instructions on how to vote online or by telephone.

From start to finish, the practice online voting session took all of 10 minutes, once you read and understand the instructions in the letter.

Over in the boardroom where representatives from voting vendor Scytl were set up to answer questions, a few residents voiced concerns about the security of online voting in general.

Questions about the voting data and the technology itself were asked, and answered. None of the data collected during Newmarket’s municipal election leaves Canada, or Ontario for that matter. The votes are sent to a "virtual" ballot box, located in Markham, where that city has conducted online voting since 2003. That’s because the blockchain technology platform upon which voting data is collected and analyzed, essentially, cannot be changed or altered by anyone. Scytl recently oversaw board of directors elections for the Canadian Medical Association, Canada Post and Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada with no glitches, representatives said.

Above all, the inability to prove the identity of the person voting online was cited by residents as a concern. Online voting is, by its nature, an unsupervised process.

Newmarket has contingency plans in place, and should voting be de-railed somehow, the Town has the authority to extend the election.

“We’re very low risk as a municipality,” Town Clerk Lisa Lyons said in a recent interview.

But still, some Town staff expressed disappointment with the low turnout. Refreshments went largely untouched, information booths saw little activity, and the kids’ zone stood empty of children.

There are more opportunities coming up to help residents cast their electronic ballot, including voting classes.

There are 23 days before voting can begin, with advance voting starting Oct. 13. The 2018 municipal election is Oct. 22.

Learn more at Vote Newmarket

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Kim Champion

About the Author: Kim Champion

Kim Champion is a veteran journalist and editor who covers Newmarket and issues that impact York Region.
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