Wednesday, July 06, 2016

evidence about online voting (particularly turnout)

What follows is my analysis of the assumptions in statements that have been made about online voting, based on evidence.



1. This assumes that social media is a primary medium for Canadians under age 45 to have discussions.

But US social media demographics for online users show that social media is widely used at all ages. 

Facebook use
18-29 87%
30-49 73%
50-64 63%
65+ 56%

58% of entire adult population

Pew Research Centre - Social Media Update 2014 - Demographics of Key Social Media Platforms - January 9, 2015

So Facebook is basically used by everyone.  It's a bit of a strong statement to say "especially those under 45"; one can't assume that social media is the special purview of the young. It also assumes that these tools are used substantially for discussion, rather than for other activities (e.g. entertainment). It seems a very general assertion to make. I would like to see evidence that social media is used by many Canadians, particularly young Canadians, as a primary mechanism for decision-making. However, how social media is used is kind of tangential - of much more concern is the linkage that is made between being online and voting online, which I address in the next section.


2. This assumes that because people (assumed to be young people) use social media online, they will also want online voting and that this will increase participation.

But evidence again and again shows that online voting does not increase participation, by youth or by any voting group.  All that happens is that (mostly middle-aged) people who would have voted at a polling station anyway vote online.

Young ontario voters (aged 18-24) more likely to use paper ballots than internet voting
above from Internet Voting Project Twitter - https://twitter.com/ivotingproject/status/660551650000699392 - 31 October 2015
  1. 3.100  Advocates also cite current Estonian and Swiss internet voting as improving equality and voter turnout, convenience and timely vote counting. However, these examples have either been consistently undermined in security analyses (in the case of Estonia) or have not been proven in a general election (in the case of Switzerland).
above from Parliament of Australia - Inquiry into and report on all aspects of the conduct of the 2013 Federal Election and matters related thereto Second Interim Report Chapter 3: National and international experience - Committee Comments

UPDATE 2016-07-08: For more on Estonian Internet voting, see subsequent blog post Estonian Internet voting and turnout myths.  ENDUPDATE
there was no impact on turnout, which actually decreased very slightly
above from UK Electoral Commission - Official report on internet voting pilot at Rushmoor elections published - June 3, 2008
Internet voting is seen by some as a potential solution to this trend of declining voter turnout. ... While there have been some Internet voting elections where voter turnout has increased, when other factors such as the apparent closeness of the race and interest in particular contests (e.g., a mayoral election without an incumbent) are taken into consideration, research suggests that Internet voting does not generally cause non-voters to vote. Instead, Internet voting is mostly used as a tool of convenience for individuals who have already decided to vote.
above from BC Independent Panel on Internet Voting report (PDF) page 12 - February 2014
However, it said, there was no evidence that the trial led to a rise in the overall number of people voting nor that it mobilised new groups, such as young people, to vote.
above from BBC - E-voting experiments end in Norway amid security fears - 27 June 2014
At best, [Michael] McGregor said, the evidence is mixed. He sees internet voting as no different than advanced polls in that "it's not increasing turnout, it's just people who are already voting."


[Nicole] Goodman's data from municipal elections in the Toronto-area municipality of Markham, which has had internet voting since 2003, found that "those aged 35–64 are the strongest internet voting users in all election years and suggest that online ballots are growing in popularity among older voters while use is waning among younger voters."
above from CBC News - Why hi-tech voting has low priority for Canadian elections - September 9, 2015
  • Statistics indicate that internet voting does not increase voter turnout or youth participation.
above from City of Mississauga report on Internet Voting - Potential enhancements for the 2018 Municipal Election: Internet Voting, Ranked Choice Elections and Vote Anywhere. (PDF) - June 20, 2016

I could keep on citing evidence, but you get the idea.  Online voting doesn't increase turnout.  It doesn't get younger voters voting.

What gets younger voters voting is engagement with the issues.  Which is why the turnout increased across the board in the last (totally paper-based) election.
Youth voter turnout increased in every Canadian province and territory in
above from https://twitter.com/ElectionsCan_E/status/743791592306253824/


3. If we're talking about integrity and security there is abundant evidence, which would take far too long to cite here, that putting elections online reduces integrity (in part because it becomes essentially impossible to meaningfully observe any of the process of the election) and dramatically increases the security risk.  There are many many such examples in my blog and my Twitter.  I'll just use a single quote to illustrate the point:
“We believe that online voting, especially online voting in large scale, introduces great risk into the election system by threatening voters’ expectations of confidentiality, accountability and security of their votes and provides an avenue for malicious actors to manipulate the voting results,” Neil Jenkins, an official in the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications at the [US] Department of Homeland Security, said at a conference of the Election Verification Network this spring.
above from Washington Post - More than 30 states offer online voting, but experts warn it isn’t secure - May 17, 2016

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