Online election snafu raises questions; some Ontario towns still voting


TORONTO — An Ontario municipal candidate forced by major online voting problems to wait another day to find out whether he will be mayor called the process disconcerting on Tuesday and questioned the wisdom of having no paper-ballot backup.

In addition, Chris Peabody called on the provincial government to study internet balloting and to ensure election laws are updated to reflect new reality.

“It makes you really question whether it’s worth putting all the time and effort into it,” Peabody said of his run for mayor of Brockton, Ont. “It might be one of the reasons there’s so much cynicism and so many acclamations in municipal politics this year in Ontario.”

Instead of either celebrating a win or drowning a loss in a drink, Peabody and scores of other political hopefuls found themselves grappling with an online voting glitch during Monday’s municipal elections. In all, 51 municipalities using Denver, Colo.-based Dominion Voting Systems had problems. Some opted to extend voting hours into late Monday, but others like Brockton in midwestern Ontario pushed the deadline back for a full 24 hours.

In a statement on Monday, Dominion blamed an unnamed Toronto company for limiting incoming voting traffic. Dominion said the issue was resolved in 90 minutes, but many voters still complained of problems. In a brief response to questions on Tuesday, the company said it would issue a statement later in the day.

“Our priority is ensuring that our Ontario municipal election customers are able to provide their voters with uninterrupted service until the end of voting,” Dominion vice president Kay Stimson said.

Dominion, which bills itself as a leading providing of election counting solutions, charged Brockton about $5 for each of the municipality’s 7,500 eligible voters — about $40,000. In theory, the vote was to have cost roughly 15 per cent less than a traditional paper ballot, which requires staffing and other costs. This year, the Dominion problem may well have increased the cost, which Peabody said the company should cover.

The company was also responsible for voting during the Progressive Conservative leadership race that saw Doug Ford, who went on to become Ontario’s premier, emerge victorious. However, that contest was marked by problems with balloting and it took more than five hours longer than it should have to declare the winner.

In the 2010 election, Brockton ran into similar bandwidth problems with a different company providing online voting services, Halifax-based Intelivote Systems. The municipality got a free online referendum out of it in 2013. However, in 2010 and again in 2014, paper ballots were also available for those who chose to go that route. Not so on Monday, given that council voted narrowly to get rid of paper altogether.

The delays prompted some people to give up on voting altogether, Peabody said.

“Some people phoned me and said, ‘I really want to vote for you but I’ve been on there for an hour and a half and now I’m done’,” Peabody said. The candidate said he was working the phones in an effort at getting the vote out on Tuesday.

Peabody said he’s always been suspicious of online voting in light of hacking concerns and technical problems. The Municipal Elections Act needs updating he said. One example involves a ban on candidates helping people vote at polling stations. However, a polling station is “somebody’s front door if they have an iPhone,” Peabody noted.

“The province should look at regulating it,” he said. “They need to study the cybersecurity issues and the bandwidth issues, the foreign ownership issues.”

In all, at least a dozen municipalities extended voting in their local elections by a day. Those municipalities included Pembroke, Waterloo, Prince Edward County, Greater Sudbury, and several communities in the Muskoka region.

The rest of Ontario’s 417 municipal races went off without technical trouble.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press