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Internet voting gets close look in B.C.

Experts to study risks and benefits, but doing it is likely years away

Elections B.C. is gathering experts to study the risks and benefits of Internet voting, but it will likely be years before the province seriously considers replacing paper ballots with websites.

Chief electoral officer Keith Archer will chair a four-member panel of experts in the fields of computer security, technology and electoral administration, which is expected to start meeting late next month, said Nola Western, deputy chief electoral officer.

Justice Minister Shirley Bond said it's time to look at new options, as long as the integrity of elections can be maintained. "All of us are interested in increasing the voter turnout in elections, whether provincial or municipal," she said in a statement.

Elections B.C. said it's not possible to make changes to the next provincial election, scheduled for May 14, 2013.

It's also unlikely anything would change before 2014, when municipalities are set to head to the polls.

B.C.'s election law currently doesn't allow municipalities to experiment with Internet voting, nor does it permit Elections B.C. to use Internet voting for provincial elections.

The government ignored a request by Archer last November to amend the law to give him the power to try Internet voting pilot projects.

"We want to have the mandate to at least have the exploration of this topic," Archer said at the time.

Instead, Bond announced Thursday she'd asked Archer to convene the expert panel.

Premier Christy Clark promised to explore online voting during her leadership campaign in early 2011.

An Elections B.C. discussion paper last September concluded that Internet voting could be more convenient for British Columbians, but also presents more security risks than in-person voting.

The new panel will take a more comprehensive look at the issue than the discussion paper, which is already out of date, said Western.

NDP justice critic Leonard Krog said the Opposition welcomes the panel, but has concerns about the security of online voting and whether it could be vulnerable to attack.

"There's a growing interest in this method of voting, and particularly in the municipal level in B.C., but there are lots of alarm bells," said Krog.

While no Canadian provinces currently use Internet voting, the municipalities of Halifax and Markham, Ont., have tried it, said Western. It's also common in Europe, she said.

B.C.'s flirtation with online voting coincides with changes to its information and privacy laws last year that paved the way for high-tech identity cards.

The government has said people will one day be able to use the cards to verify their identity and access Internet-based government services, including, potentially, online voting.

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