Making the case for online voting

Another student election looms; why hasn't turnout been addressed?

TRUSU has called its general election and soon we’ll be casting a ballot and voting in a new set of student representatives. Well, at least some of us will. If history is any indication, a vast majority of students won’t vote at all. In last year’s election, just nine per cent of students showed up to vote.

With turnout figures that low, something needs to change. While I understand that change doesn’t happen quickly, TRUSU’s polling figures have been dismal for a long time. Last year’s nine per cent isn’t even our worst showing – in 2013 only 7.5 per cent of students voted. How low does turnout have to go before the legitimacy of our elected student government comes into question? I don’t want to find out.

While dumping more time and money into campaigning might do something to bring students back to the polls in the short term, it’s not the fundamental change that is required to get students engaged.

Instead? Let’s start running our student elections online. We certainly wouldn’t be the first. A cursory search online reveals dozens of Canadian universities running their student elections online, including Wilfrid Laurier University, Queen’s University, the University of Toronto, UBC and many others.

But what about security and privacy? Well, students already manage a number of private and secure things online through their myTRU account. Grades, transcripts, payment information, schedules and other personal information is accessible online already. The “one student equals one account” requirement of online voting is already met through the university. As other universities have done, such as those mentioned above, the voting system to-be could link up with existing student logins, making administration, security and accountability far less of a concern.

And not only does online voting make student elections more accessible, it also brings democracy into other campus organizations. UBC, for example, conducted 22 separate elections for various student groups on campus in 2015, all through its online voting system.

So will online voting really change things? Other test cases show that yes, bringing in online voting will have an impact. Wilfrid Laurier University improved their voter turnout by 158 per cent from the previous year when they held their first online election in 2011.

A lot of the concerns around introducing online voting among the general population revolve around serving all demographics, specifically older generations that do not use the Internet as frequently as younger generations. At TRU, more than 90 per cent of students are below 40 years old, meaning it’s unlikely that online voting would be shutting out voters.

At any rate, the status quo won’t cut it. To the union’s credit, this year the voting period has been extended from two days to three. If it turns out one extra day of voting improves turnout significantly, maybe there’s hope for the paper ballot after all, but I don’t think that’ll do it.