Photo: Graham Hughes archives The Canadian Press Élections Québec will present on Wednesday the cities which will participate in a first experiment with Internet voting in November 2025.
Sébastien Tanguay in Quebec
January 24, 2024
Internet voting is preparing to make its entry into Quebec democracy during the 2025 municipal election. Élections Québec must announce on Wednesday the fifteen cities which will serve as a laboratory where part of the electorate will be able to exercise your law from the comfort of your living room.
Almost six years after the National Assembly unanimously entrusted the Director General of Elections of Quebec with the mandate “to carry out a study aimed at proposing, within two years, a remote voting method”, the organization is entering the home stretch with a view to introducing online voting.
21 cities, 7 of which are among the 10 largest in Quebec, have raised their hands to participate in the pilot project. Élections Québec must announce on Wednesday the fifteen of them where it will be possible to vote online during the election of November 2, 2025.
The municipalities selected should represent a “diversity of profiles” and regions, affirms Élections Québec. And in each of them, only part of the population will have access to Internet voting. “We are talking about 10% of the electorate for each municipality,” explains Julie Saint-Arnaud Drolet, spokesperson for Élections Québec. “Of course, if people in the districts or arrondissements concerned do not want to vote online, there is no problem: all current ways of voting will be maintained. »
In the running to participate in the Élections Québec pilot project are Montreal, Quebec, Laval, Gatineau, Lévis, Trois-Rivières, Terrebonne, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Drummondville, Granby, Mirabel, Rimouski, Rouyn-Noranda, Saint-Georges, Alma, Sainte-Julie, Magog, Beloeil, Baie-Comeau, Saint-Lazare and Joliette.
A call for tenders launched in October made it possible to attract three multinationals wishing to build the accessible, reliable and confidential computer system coveted by Élections Québec, and both the Spanish Scytl and the American Smartmatic and Voatz claim extensive experience in this area. The selection of the company that will win the contract must take place “before the summer”, according to Julie Saint-Arnaud Drolet, but Élections Québec reserves the right to cancel the experience if none manages to meet its criteria.
“We have cybersecurity requirements, obviously, out of concern to respect the integrity of the electoral process,” specifies the spokesperson. “We also have issues regarding accessibility: it is very important to us that the platform is easy to use for people who may experience different limitations. We also want the platform to be reliable and functional. In a word: effective. »
Beyond participation, access
Despite a participation rate which peaked at 38.7% during the last municipal elections, in 2021, it is not with the primary ambition of attracting more people to the polls that Élections Québec is embarking on the avenue of Internet voting.
“People often think we do this to increase voter turnout. Of course, Élections Québec wants the greatest number of voters to exercise their right to vote, but when we look at the experiences already carried out elsewhere in Canada and in the world, we cannot conclude that online voting increases participation”, underlines Julie Saint-Arnaud Drolet.
It is therefore mainly to “promote access to voting” that Élections Québec is exploring online voting.
Quebec should not, however, vote via the Internet during the 2026 general elections: it will first be necessary to study the experience that took place on a smaller scale, at the municipal level, before continuing adventure. “If people use and like the method in 2025, if the platform is reliable and if the electoral process goes smoothly, we can consider this first trial a success. From there, we will consider the possibility of continuing other pilot projects in the provincial elections. »
“We want social acceptability to be there as well, so that those who do not vote online, and even those elected, have confidence in the integrity of the elections,” reminds the spokesperson.
The Quebec Federation of Municipalities and the Union of Quebec Municipalities welcome the initiative of Élections Québec. “We would like to see the results of this pilot project”, indicated in writing the president of the first, Jacques Demers, while the UMQ assures that these “will fuel [the] reflection for the future”.
In Rimouski, the interest shown at Élections Québec to participate in the trial in 2025 is “with a view to facilitating and modernizing” the democratic process, explains Frédéric Savard, the press secretary of the mayor, Guy Caron. “The pilot project could also have positive impacts on the participation rate and would optimize the conduct of in-person voting. »
Elsewhere in Canada and around the world
In Canada, two provinces and as many territories offer a form of Internet voting in municipal or general elections.
Ontario and Nova Scotia now open this possibility to all cities during municipal elections. On the other side of the Ottawa River, around 200 municipalities bringing together some 3.8 million people proposed exercising the right to vote via the Internet in the 2022 election. And on the Atlantic side, in the neo-capital -Scottish, Halifax, the share of the electorate using this method increases with each election: from 60% in 2012 and 2016, it had climbed to 77% in 2020 — a record.
The Northwest Territories (NWT) and Yukon also offer online voting under certain conditions. Since October 3, the N.W.T. allow their entire electorate to use Internet voting after a first experiment carried out in 2019 and reserved for those who requested postal voting. More recently, Yukon also took the route of Internet voting during its 2022 school elections.
Estonia is a pioneer in the world, as the first country to offer Internet voting to its entire population. The method has been present in the Estonian political landscape since the municipal elections of 2005. The country then applied online voting to parliamentary, presidential and even European elections. In the last national election, in March 2023, 51% of the electorate cast their vote via the Internet. It was the first time, in the long history of parliamentarism and in the short history of the Internet, that online voting prevailed over traditional voting during a national parliamentary election.
Other countries such as France, Spain, Switzerland and Russia have also dipped their ballots in the digital world. Norway dabbled in online voting before withdrawing completely in 2014, concerned about reliability and security issues raised at the time.