I have never supported online voting. The NDP Leadership Convention’s experience is one of several reasons.
For those who have not read the news, the online vote was subjected to a ddos attack. That’s when thousands of computers are used to deny an online service by keeping the server too busy. (There are other ways to do a ddos attack; this is the one that was used last Saturday.) The result: thousands of NDP voters were unable to vote because they couldn’t get onto the website in the amount of time they had to do so. There are reports of people spending two hours with each round of voting, just trying to cast a ballot. I ended up being very glad I’d voted in the advance poll.
The problem here is that it’s possible the outcome was changed. Since the overwhelming majority of votes cast on the last two ballots were cast in advance of the convention, there was no opportunity for momentum to grow behind a candidate during the convention itself. How might that have been different? Nathan Cullen was thousands of votes behind Brian Topp going into the third round of voting. What if he’d caught up? He would have knocked Topp off the ballot, and then the “anyone but Mulcair” folks in the Topp campaign would have thrown their support behind Cullen. It might have led to Cullen winning. It’s possible it wouldn’t have been enough to topple Mulcair anyway – but we’ll never know.
This was a leadership convention. It was quite clear going into Saturday’s vote that Mulcair had a significant lead. I suspect it would be much harder for party members to accept the results if that had not been the case. In any case, it’s not like this is a general election, right? The right to vote in it was granted by the party, not by Elections Canada, not by democratic tradition. Most parties even now do not have a one-member-one-vote system.
But the fact that the election could be hijacked in this way, causing delay, frustration, and a remote possibility that the outcome was changed, is a powerful argument against online voting in general elections. There is no way to maintain the privacy of the public and make an online election safe from these types (or other types) of attacks at the same time.
If we are to safeguard our electoral system, we must insist that we keep our paper ballots. It’s not perfect – witness the Robocall scandal as evidence – but it’s better than this.