Voting in the future, Brazilian style

This week, along with 14,511 other Yukoners, I went through the time-honored ritual of picking up a pencil (stubby and cheap, but mightier, we are…

This week, along with 14,511 other Yukoners, I went through the time-honored ritual of picking up a pencil (stubby and cheap, but mightier, we are told, than the sword) and casting my vote in a political election.

I have to admit, though, that I experienced some discontent with the whole procedure, this time out, and perhaps a little sympathy for the otherwise shamefully high number of Yukoners who gave the election a miss this year (a disturbing 36.3 per cent of the eligible people did not vote).

My discontent was not with the quality of candidates on offer (that was actually pretty strong), and only a little with the point and purpose of the election (which was unnecessary and wasteful, but it is hardly the first Canadian election to be both of those things).

My discontent was really with the increasingly silly and antiquated way we conduct our elections.

At a time when Canadian voter turn out has plummeted to an historic low (only 59.1 per cent of the national electorate actually voted, this time), Elections Canada has put up new barriers to entry with pointlessly expanded proof of identity requirements.

Furthermore, it continues to cling to electoral procedures that are hopelessly antiquated in the information age, and which make the whole process look silly to the tech-savvy young people who have either just become, or will shortly become, the next generation of voters.

Elections Canada is, put simply, just plain “out of it” when it comes to conducting a modern-day election.

The businesses of the stubby little pencil and the paper ballot may be cost-effective, but it is inefficient and time-wasteful.

And the putative “media lockdown,” as people in one time zone are supposedly kept ignorant about election results until their polling booths are closed, has long since become a silly, ineffectual charade.

What we should be doing is going down to Brazil and renting some of their very sweet and effective electronic voting machines.

It may seem a bit strange to look to a country so notorious for political instability and corruption for an electoral system; but, in fact, it was the country’s sad history of electoral skullduggery that motivated the Brazilian government to innovate with cost-effective, user-friendly, tamper-resistant voting machines in the first place.

It works like this.

When election time rolls around, the Brazilian voters in any area can pick up an information sheet showing the name, party logo, and photo of each candidate for some office or other. Beside each of these candidates is a two-digit number.

The voter then goes to voting machine at the polling station and enters the two digit number of the candidate of his or her choice.

As confirmation, the picture and name and party logo of that candidate appears on the display screen of the machine. If it is the wrong candidate, the voter presses a button to reject that entry. If it is the right candidate, he or she presses a green button and the vote goes into the machine’s database.

After the polling stations are closed, these machines all feed their information into a centralized database, and the votes are rapidly tabulated and reported.

There is very little time lost in ballot counting, because the computer does it.

To provide for backup, it is also possible to attach a printer to each machine which feeds a paper transcript of each vote into a tamper-protected plastic bag, which can be used for recounts if necessary.

Brazil first experimented with this kind of voting in 1996, and has been doing fully digital voting, with great success, since 2000. They have even loaned out the machines to other countries, including Ecuador, Paraguay and Argentina, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic.

Canada should consider joining that list.

While our small size, and high literacy rates, and general electoral probity render some of the features of the system not quite so vital to our needs, the Brazil system still offers us one tremendous advantage.

It would allow us to get rid of the silly and ineffective news lockdown that presently does nothing but annoy people.

Given the small size of our voting population, and the fact that the heaviest concentrations of that population are in the Eastern Time zones, the Brazilian system would allow us to hold off announcing any election results until all the votes were in and counted, all across the nation.

The rapid reporting the Brazilian machines make possible means that full results could probably be tabulated within a couple of hours after the BC and Yukon polls closed at 7 p.m.  — so, not much later that a bit after midnight in the East.

Right now, it is often the Westerners who have to burn the midnight oil in a close election. It is not unreasonable to expect the same thing from the people out east.

And the Brazilian system also allows for a feature that might appeal to some of you disgruntled non-voters out there.

There is also a two-digit number you can use on the machine for “none of the above” — in other words, you can, if you want, file a protest vote if you don’t like the choices you have been offered; and that vote cannot be passed off by the press or the politicos as a mistake, or an absence of interest.

All in all, I think there are enough positives to this system to warrant attention from the federal, provincial and even territorial governments.

Brazil: It isn’t just about samba, anymore.

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