An experiment with Internet voting at the Huu-ay-aht First Nation near Bamfield could serve as a model for changes in the way municipalities vote.
Huu-ay-aht, which implemented self-government last year after concluding the Maa-Nulth treaty, will hold a pilot project using Internet voting at its general assembly in November. The First Nation will have help from the Canadian Electoral Democracy Association, a non-profit group looking for ways to increase voter participation and engagement.
"The general assembly is where our citizens come together to make important decisions," said Huu-ay-aht councillor John Jack, who is spearheading the project.
Anacla, the main Huu-ay-aht village, is difficult to reach. A winding logging road takes at least 90 minutes to drive, making it difficult for those who live off reserve to participate, Jack said.
About 85 per cent of the First Nation's 750 members live off-reserve. Last year, the quorum was lost before the end of the general assembly as people left for the long journey home, he said.
"It's not too difficult for the people in Port Alberni, if we can get a bus, but there are a significant number of people from the mainland and Victoria, Nanaimo and Parksville," Jack said.
Most of them have access to a computer and would be given unique, secure log-ins and passwords for votes, he said.
The online voters would also be able, through a conference call, to ask questions during debates on issues such as investing the band's capital or buying resource tenures, Jack said.
"In theory, it should work well," the 31-year-old said.
"Because I am young, I would like to show this sort of thing is possible. It will give the tools to people who want to see a higher participation in politics," he said.
"We are a small nation, but we are dispersed over a large area - the same as Canada. This is our small contribution to Canadian democracy."
CEDA chairman Rob Botterell said the pilot project is exciting and should provide vital information for the independent panel looking at Internet voting, whose members were announced this week by B.C.'s chief electoral officer Keith Archer.
The panel will examine the possibility of Internet voting for provincial and local government elections in B.C.
Huu-ay-aht could be a model, Botterell said.
"Certainly, one of the things we will be doing at CEDA is actively seeing if other First Nations are interested in pursuing this," he said.
An advantage is that First Nations can include a provision for Internet voting in their laws, but municipalities would need a change in provincial legislation, Botterell said.
"We are hoping we can encourage the province to make those changes before the 2014 municipal elections," he said.
"Maybe at that time we could have a couple of pilots. We know Nanaimo and Vancouver are interested."
CEDA is holding a lunch panel Sept. 27 at the Harbour Towers Hotel to look at how Ontario local governments, including Markham, have successfully used Internet voting.
The panel includes two Markham municipal officials.
For information, go to civicinfo.bc.ca/event/2012/ eVoting.php.
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