Last Thursday I worked as a “Deputy Returning Officer” in the provincial Ontario elections, district 15, poll 88. Despite the boredom and gruelling hours, I appreciated the introspection it provided into the electoral process at work in Canada. And just how needlessly complicated and archaic it is. With voting levels approaching all-time lows, pollsters are pressed more than ever to consider means to improve the accessibility and appeal of voting. I present 3 suggestions to drive up voting and improve the process.
At the end of the (long excruciating) day, the polling box seals are cut and paper ballots are poured onto a table and opened and counted by hand at least twice. It’s the 21st century and this is done by hand. Except for special locations equipped with special machines for people with disabilities, all ballots are paper-based. It’s the 21st century, and we have the technology to do this (with a papertrail!): from the McDonald’s cashier who punches your order to the ATM machine, to parking kiosks; the list goes on. You worried about the potential for computer error? Believe me, it’s offset by the potential for human error.
Not only can an electronic machine can do this more efficiently (faster), more effectively (lower potential for error), but these machines can also improve the whole process at polls and districts. To reduce the load of voters, they are split between several polls across districts in a riding. Why? That’s like telling customers when they arrive at the supermarket which line they’ll use at the check out. What happens? Some lines will be longer and others shorter at different times.
With electronic voting, more people can be accommodated, faster, independent of their arbitrary poll allocation due to their specific address.
Here’s a wilder suggestion from the previous one, but again, nothing new.Canadians all across the country are very connected to the Internet. Online they do online banking, telework and trade stocks. So why not vote? Despite a shocking increase of 38% voter turnout at advance polls, voter turnout was still at an all-time low. Why? My guess: because it’s just real convenient for voters to choose their own time and day to vote until voting day. The convenience of internet voting can extend the reach of the vote to the 50% who don’t vote, whatever their reasons. So many other benefits are possible as well, some from the top of my head asking voters for their feedback on the experience, if it was their first time voting, etc. (collected anonymously of course) to improve the process.
I know, there are many concerns needing to be addressed with internet voting (potential for fraud, whether voters would still take voting seriously, legitimacy of their vote), but with voter turnout at all time low, I think it’s time to not only seriously address those with the intention to resolve them, but also to try something else, finally. Myself, I think the answers exist about how to address fraud, as there are many creative and sophisticated processes and encryption out there already protecting online banking and email. Also there are many opportunities as well to improve the electoral process, especially the effeciency and costs involved. Voting in remote locations or votes cast by special ballot could be made much easier for voters.
Hire qualified, interested people, + get their feedback
I was hired to work election day because I filled out a form. The form did not ask about my previous experience, qualifications or skills (like being bilingual). It asked for the same information I needed to provide to get a video card membership. I was also paid well that day. I don’t know if there was any hiring process elsewhere, but we could have avoided some problems, delays and errors had the hiring process been different. More qualified (ie: bilingual, literate) and interested people could have been hired to make the voting process efficient and effective for voters on this very important day. And then, follow-up with them and ask them for their feedback: on the training, on the day’s events, and how to improve it. If someone can help improve the electoral process at the ground level, it’s not likely going to be bureaucrats with permanent jobs in a central office or area managers running around the district. These hires are your front-line staff. You’ve invested 13 hours into their experience with the voting process.