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Chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand waits to appear before the Commons ethics committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Oct. 4, 2011. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand waits to appear before the Commons ethics committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Oct. 4, 2011. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Elections Canada wants more people to cast ballots, but online voting is still out Add to ...

Elections Canada is trying to ease registration for young voters and is pushing for more civic education in elementary classrooms, according to the federal elections watchdog.

But online voting is still out of the question.

Marc Mayrand, Canada's chief electoral officer, delivered the remarks in an online discussion with Globe and Mail readers Thursday night. “Online voting would certainly make voting more convenient for everyone, including young voters,” Mr. Mayrand wrote. “That being said, there are still issues surrounding the integrity, verifiability and secrecy of the vote.”

British Columbia recently announced it was looking into the logistics of online voting for provincial and municipal elections to try to boost falling turnout rates. A discussion paper released last year by Elections B.C. found concerns similar to Mr. Mayrand's, but suggested the practice could increase voter participation.

As for the robocalls affair – alleged misleading automated calls during the 2011 federal election – Mr. Mayrand said the investigation continues but he couldn't give a timeline.

Mr. Mayrand did say he plans to report to Parliament on the “improper use of telecommunications” during last year's election. According to a recent Canadian Press report, that will include possible regulation of parties' voter databases and the use of automated phone messages.

“In the context of that report I will raise issues regarding the data collected on electors, how this information is kept and what assurances are given regarding the privacy of electors,” Mr. Mayrand wrote in the discussion.

Here are some of Mr. Mayrand's remarks to readers:

On online voting:

Online voting would certainly make voting more convenient for everyone, including young voters. That being said, there are still issues surrounding the integrity, verifiability and secrecy of the vote. ... I think that it is a matter of time before we find the proper technological solution and we are continuing our research and learning from other jurisdictions that are experimenting in this field. We do not want to find ourselves in a similar situation as to what occurred in the 2000 U.S. Presidential elections, or more recently in the Netherlands.

On the importance of casting your ballot:

Voting makes a difference. Just look at the recent election in Quebec where a new government has cancelled tuition fee increases due, in no small part, to vocal and passionate advocacy by students and their supporters. But no matter how passionate of an advocate they were, they only realized the change they wanted as a result of casting a ballot.

On the allegations of irregularities and the so-called robocalls scandal during the 2011 federal election:

The one thing that I can assure you is that the commissioner's office is diligently pursuing this matter and is sparing no effort in bringing this investigation to completion. This investigation is like peeling an onion – there are many layers, including phony names, false addresses, false phone numbers, proxy servers, hidden IP addresses, to name but a few reported in the media. But rest assured that the commissioner is determined to get to the bottom of this, and so am I.

On engaging post-secondary students:

For those who wish to vote, we are trying to eliminate as many barriers as possible. For instance, one thing that we know about youth is that fewer of them are registered to vote. We have just launched an online registration service that will facilitate the registration process, especially for young people. ... For 2015 we are looking at a number of new initiatives, particularly for students on campus. We are looking at setting up special polling stations on campuses. We will be working closely with student associations and campus administrators to make this happen.

On alternate electoral systems (such as proportional representation):

There are many who would advocate to make the political system more representative. In fact, several political parties are suggesting these types of changes both at the federal and provincial levels. ... However, studies have shown that changes in the system itself would have a negligible impact on voter turnout. That is why I keep coming back to civic education as the main influencer to effect positive change with respect to voter participation.

For the full transcript, including questions on voting age and Canada's Democracy Week, click here.

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