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The Globe and Mail

As voter numbers decline, online voting would help boost engagement

Bukem Reitmayer in Montreal on September 3, 2010. Bukem Reitmayer,18 is a student with the Ontario-based Virtual High School (VHS), which calls itself the largest online private high school in Canada. As the 2011federal election enters its last week, The Globe argues that, as the rest of our lives move online, voting should too in order to engage young voters and make for a more inclusive election.

John Morstad for The Globe and Mail/john morstad The Globe and Mail

Who visits tellers? We bank online (or by telephone), book a trip or a doctor's appointment online, find a life partner, purchase concert tickets, register for university online. So why don't we allow people to vote in national elections online, or by telephone, at their homes, if they wish?

The ballot box is an anachronism. A delightful one, to be sure, but still an anachronism. In all weather, in sickness and in health, in riding stations near and far, we expect people to brave lineups - another anachronism. (Well, we can wish, can't we?)

It may surprise some, but Canada already has done electronic, remote voting, or voting by telephone. It has been used in at least 44 municipalities, including Halifax and Markham, Ont. It hasn't led to massive security breaches. It hasn't destroyed civic life. It has produced some higher turnouts.

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Voter turnout is dismal, and becoming more so. It reached a historic low of 59 per cent in the 2008 federal election. The people who are least likely to vote are young people 18 to 30. There are all kinds of reasons for this disengagement - apathy and laziness are probably two - and electronic technologies will not solve them all. But remote electronic voting should help boost their engagement. What's more, those technologies promote greater inclusion of the disabled and the elderly, transient workers and travellers.

An amendment to the Canada Elections Act in 2000 gave Elections Canada the right to experiment with electronic voting, with Parliament's approval. It is planning such an experiment in 2013. Its surveys show a majority are in favour. For better or worse, we live online. We should be able to vote online, too.

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