Council discusses internet voting system for next Whitehorse municipal election

Internet voting could be coming to Whitehorse’s next municipal election, but one city councillor fears the North isn’t exempt from the risk of foreign interference.The city has drafted a bylaw to govern this year’s election, set for Oct. 17, and any future by-elections. On Monday night the City’s Director of Corporate Services Valerie Braga took questions from councillors about the new legislation.She explained that internet voting could capture a larger pool of voters.”It is a means of getting the vote out to people without requiring them to have to come to a polling space. We, traditionally, have not had high voter turnout and we saw this as an opportunity to try to get more people voting,” she said. In the 2022 municipal election, about 37 per cent of Whitehorse’s eligible voters cast a ballot. Comparatively, in the 2021 territorial election, 65 per cent of the Yukon’s registered electors had a say. The draft bylaw states that voters will be able to cast an online ballot from Sept. 27 until polling day.Paper ballots and special ballots will still be available.  City Councillor Ted Laking thinks internet voting could open the door to foreign actors and “those who would want to do bad things to us”. “I know that sometimes we think we’re too small or we’re too far north, we’re not on people’s radar. I think we’re on people’s radar,” he said. (Submitted by Ted Laking)For Councillor Ted Laking, the idea posed some “serious concerns.”He cited a “growing tide of foreign interference” in elections in Canada and the United States. “We know that countries such as Russia are not afraid to use these types of tools to interfere in elections. We’re seeing that closer to home with daily revelations coming out of the foreign interference inquiry,” he said.”To quote from a CSIS briefing note… ‘foreign actors are targeting all levels of government including the provincial and municipal levels’. Then it goes on to state that the purpose of this would be ‘as a means of generating bottom up pressure on higher levels of government to influence policies.’ ” Laking urged the city not to “open the door” and allow Whitehorse to be used as a test case by foreign actors. “I know that sometimes we think we’re too small or we’re too far north, we’re not on people’s radar. I think we’re on people’s radar. We recently very publicly signed a sister city relationship with Chortkiv, Ukraine and have stood by them as they’ve opposed and resisted the foreign invasion from Russia of the Ukraine,” he said.”I think that that right there puts a target on our back. We’ve seen a couple Yukoners here in recent weeks be targeted specifically by the Russian government and have travel bans put on on them.”Laking added in his two-and-a-half years on the city council, no-one had told him they wished they could vote online. Councillor Dan Boyd said he too had a “little bit of concern.”  “I certainly understand why it’s good … there are merits to doing it and and what it’ll do. But in the world we just happen to be living in right now, I’m a little nervous of what might happen,” he said. A sign outside a polling station during Whitehorse’s city election in October 2021. City staff say an internet voting system could reduce barriers for voters. “It is a means of getting the vote out to people without requiring them to have to come to a polling space,” Director of Corporate Services Valerie Braga said. (Ramesh Ferris/Supplied)Braga said the internet voting system had been endorsed by Elections Yukon, and it is already used in school elections. “I understand the concerns as expressed. We will continue to talk to them — and they are at this point assuring us that everything is safe,” she said.”There are a number of national committees that are represented behind the scenes and they assure us that nothing in Canada has has approached the level it has in the United States. So we’re not expecting that sort of an issue to occur.”Jeff O’Farrell, Whitehorse city manager, said the internet voting system that’s being explored is different from online voting as it has more safeguards in place.”There’s a few steps that a voter would have to go through before they can access this i-voting system,” he said.The Election Procedures Bylaw will go to first reading next week.

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