Online voting has exciting potential for civic engagement in #yeg

Will online voting be a positive civic engagement tool?

The City of Edmonton is evaluating the feasibility of implementing online voting for the October 21st 2013 Municipal Election.

I think this is exciting news, and could significantly impact voter turnout and civic engagement.

Online voting has, and continues to work at the University of Alberta. When I was President of the Student’s Union, we initiated online voting at the University of Alberta for our undergraduate election which engaged over 30 000 undergraduate students. This practice has been deemed successful and has been continued on campus, but the traditional polling stations have been preserved for those not comfortable with the digital options provided.

As a techno-geek, I’m thrilled that we are finally getting around to accepting a new technology. We trust our banking and our billing to our cell phones. We live, work, and play online. We date online. This is a logical and timely evolution.

As a citizen, I’m excited to hear about a new opportunity to engage more young adults, those with limited physical mobility, students, and non-voters. People may still choose not to vote, but at least we are doing what we can to provide opportunities.

As a Trustee I represent neighbourhoods with significant numbers of Edmontonians who are renters, students, or first-time voters and they don’t always know how to register to vote or where there polling station is. Online voting will make it easier for them to participate in the decision making process.

I can think of hundreds of situations where my team was trying to connect residents to their closest polling station or shuttling voters urgently before the polls closed.

As a Trustee candidate, I would welcome online voting. Through my involvement in campus election campaigns I had the chance to try new campaign tactics and strategies to reach voters and get out our campaign message. I found online voting assisted me in reaching voters who were off campus, out of town, or on a different class schedule. Candidates in future elections will need to factor online voting into their strategic considerations.

Online voting might require adjustments and it might take time, but in the end it will enable greater democratic participation. If the U of A Students’ Union could make online voting work on a large campus, I’m confident that the Elections Office can do so for Edmonton.

I hope this pilot-project helps us learn our way forward and inspires our Provincial and Federal counterparts to take similar steps in the future.