Reflecting on How We Voted in the 2021 Federal Election

By Peter Hurd Watler

Now that it has been over a week since Canada’s Snap General Election, we can adequately reflect on how we voted in this year’s federal election. A week prior to election day, I voted in an advance poll using a special ballot. During my experience, I thought about the inconvenient, inefficient, and outdated voting process I and many other Canadians had to go through to vote during the pandemic.

DISCLAIMER: This article will be as nonpartisan as possible and will focus on critiquing how we vote today, not whom we vote for.

For context, on August 15th of this year Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a snap summer election general election scheduled for September 20, 2021. Unlike Canada’s neighbours to the south, the United States has a fixed presidential election every four years, whereas in Canada the current Prime Minister has the option to call a snap election between terms.

 

Election Vulnerabilities

Upon conducting in-depth research in the form of observations, in-person interviews, and secondary data studies, I identified three main vulnerabilities in our current voting process. 

1. Expensive

This election is expected to be the most expensive in Canadian history at an estimated total cost of $610 million. If there is a similar voter turnout this year to the 2019 federal election, which had a 67% voter turnout and a total of 18,350,359 ballots cast, this will equate to a cost of $33.24 per vote. Elections Canada’s final report on voter turnout and costs has yet to be released, but I anticipate my estimations will be withinclose range to the actual results. 

There are several contributing factors that led to the high cost of this election. First, because of the restrictions of the pandemic, more safety equipment, social distancing, and staff were required for voting stations. Second, increased use of mail-in ballots requires more printing, postage, and sorting costs. Third, because Elections Canada had about a month’s notice to conduct the election, they had less time for proper budgeting, marketing, recruitment, and other planning which meant poorer quality services at a higher cost. 

In addition, a Deputy Returning Officer (DRO) I interviewed after the election told me that another cost to running this year’s election was the requirement that all polling station staff must leave at the same time at the end of election day when the final count is over. This meant that a lot of staff were waiting around for a few hours still on the pay clock while a few workers were finalizing the count. 

2. Inconvenient & Inaccessible

When I voted, I was not in the same location as my designated riding, so I had to vote during the advance poll and use a special ballot. This process ended up being more cumbersome than I initially expected: it required me to make three separate phone calls to Elections Canada to find out where I should vote, 40 minutes of driving to and from the advanced polling station, and 20 minutes of waiting in line. 

Three main groups of people are negatively affected by the inconvenient in-person voting process. 

First, senior citizens. While I was voting I witnessed a senior woman struggle to enter the building, and after over 10 minutes of waiting in line she cried out for her caregiver to bring over her oxygen tank. 

Second, rural, and Indigenous residents. One Indigenous voter I interviewed told me he had to drive over 30 minutes each way to access the nearest polling station. 

Third, marginalized people, especially those in low-income households. Those in low-income and marginalized families may not be able to afford time off work to vote, especially if they have multiple jobs and children to take care of. 

Furthermore, election day is inconvenient, strenuous, and overwhelming for Elections Canada workers. The same DRO I interviewed told me that on election day she worked from 6:30 AM to 11:15 PM and was fortunate to get a single 20-minute lunch break. Although she was grateful for the job and opportunity to uphold our democracy, she said she was stressed throughout the day. She told me she was able to push through the long workday much better than many of the election staff who are much older and are used to going to bed at 8 PM, much less working past 11 PM. 

3. Inadequate Identity Verification and Lack of Trust

Throughout my voting experience, I was never asked to remove my mask to verify my identity. This caused me concern for voter impersonation and fraud taking place in the election. 

When I received my special ballot, which is essentially a mail-in ballot filled out in-person at a polling station, I had to write out the full name of my desired candidate and to put my special ballot in an envelope and then that envelope in another envelope that had my riding address and signature. 

This process has two vulnerabilities. First, the special ballot handwriting could be declared illegible by the ballot counters, and the ballot would be ineligible for the count. Second, anyone that opens a special ballot or mail-in ballot could in theory find out who the voter voted for, completely breaching voter anonymity. 

In addition, the DRO I interviewed told me that there was a lack of proper recruitment and training provided by Elections Canada. First, when she applied for the position, there was no formal interview, reference check, or criminal background check. Second, she received a total of three hours of training the night before election day and she received no physical on the job practice. Finally, she was not given adequate information about information privacy and security. The night before the election she was given several materials, including the information list of all the voters for her booth. This list contained the voter’s name, birth year, and home address, and she was expected to keep all this information safe by storing it at her residence overnight. 

 

How Veras Addresses Vulnerabilities and Provides Value

At Veras, we believe there is a significantly better way to vote in today’s innovative world than the current method that is over 100 years old. As stated in the Government of Canada’s article entitled “Online Voting: A Path Forward for Federal Elections”, “Given this thinking[of better ways of modern voting], advancements elsewhere, public attitudes, and changes in voter behaviour, Canada needs to start researching, exploring, and testing online voting.” Veras’ verified digital voting and engagement system addresses the vulnerabilities I and many other Canadians have experienced during this year’s election.  

1. Identity Verification and Trust

Everyone’s identity and vote are verified and authenticated using our multi-layered verification, permission-based blockchain, and AI powered facial recognition. Votes and engagements are recorded anonymously on our decentralized permission-based blockchain network. Our blockchain voting system provides real time election results that are transparent, auditable, and unchangeable. In addition, identities are protected by displaying only who has or has not voted to essential election workers and not temporary staff. This mitigates the potential for privacy breaches. 

2. Ongoing Citizen Engagement

Voting once every few years is a reactive form of citizen engagement. We should be engaging with our governments far more often. How successful would your relationship be if you communicated with your significant other only once every few years?

At Veras, we create a communication bridge between citizens and their government through our citizen engagement platform. Our platform enables governments to create targeted, instant, and verified engagements which creates more transparent, accountable, and trusting societies.  

3. Cost-Effective

Veras’ secure digital voting platform reduces the need for traditional voting expenses of printing and transporting ballots, securing physical venues, and hiring temporary staff. Our citizen engagement system reduces the need for traditional stakeholder engagement expenses of outsourcing market research firms, conducting one-on-one interviews, and hosting town hall meetings. Furthermore, using our online platform reduces the risk of spreading the Coronavirus during in-person elections and engagements. Our all-in-one subscription plan provides our customers with unlimited verified elections and engagements, thereby providing elections and engagements at a fraction of the traditional cost.

 4. Convenient and Accessible

Our verified digital voting web-app platform allows voters to cast their ballot anytime and anywhere using most electronic devices that have a camera and internet connection. The ballots are verified and tabulated instantaneously using our blockchain and AI platform. This saves time and energy for both voters and election staff.  

 

We understand that it will take some time for Veras to supplement our current election system with our secure digital platform, but there is no reason for municipalities, provinces, and other governments not to start using our platform to provide their citizens with a verified voice to engage with them. 

If you would like to contact us about implementing Veras’ verified citizen engagement platform in your region or would like to learn more about how we can improve our voting and engagement systems, sign up for our FREE NEWSLETTER below!

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