Last night at around 7 p.m., the City of Kawartha Lakes Clerk, Cathie Ritchie — invoking powers given to her role under the Elections Act as the clerk of this municipal election — declared an ‘emergency’ and extended the election. Voting was to have ended by Monday Oct. 22 at 8 pm. Voting has now been extended until today (Tuesday Oct. 23) at 8 pm. All methods of voting (online, telephone, online in-person at select City locations) has been extended.
In a press release released last night, the City described the reason for the extraordinary measure as follows: “Due to the volume of voters casting their electronic ballots this evening, the system continues to run slower than expected.”
Further investigation by The Lindsay Advocate has revealed that the delay had nothing really to do with the number of voters, but rather technical systems that Dominion Voting uses — the company hired to administer this election.
In a statement issued late last night, Dominion Voting noted, “Just after 6 pm this evening, voters in approximately 51 Ontario Municipalities using Dominion’s Internet Voting (IV) portal experienced slow traffic into the system. This load issue was documented, reviewed and determined to be the result of a Toronto-based Internet Colocation provider placing an unauthorized limit on incoming voting traffic that was roughly 1/10th of the system’s designated bandwidth. Our company was unaware of this issue until our municipal customers and their voters reached out to us for assistance, or to share complaints.”
The Lindsay Advocate contacted Kay Stimson, vice president of government affairs at Dominion Voting, late last night to get more information. Stimson explained that, “Our Colocation provider supports network connectivity (server hosting) for our system, which is used to ensure the provision of limitless bandwidth and secure facilities on par with what is typically provided to large companies and public sector organizations.”
Not all of us are familiar with this technological lingo, so here is my try at a simple analogy: Imagine our votes are like water. We send our water to the company hired to count it — in this case, Dominion Voting. To make sure Dominion Voting can count all the water, even if a bunch comes in at the same time, they hire a third party (a colocation provider) to act like a hose that can expand as needed and handle all the water that comes in. Yesterday, instead of the hose expanding as it should, only 1/10th of the water was getting through: someone or something was stepping on the hose.
Stimson states that “The decision to throttle traffic today without our permission or authorization is key to what caused the slowdown today. We will certainly stay in touch about this issue.”
So at this point, we do not know why that ‘throttling of our vote” — and the vote in 50 other municipalities — happened. Dominion Voting, the leading provider of voting machines and technologies in North America, further stated that “Dominion regrets the challenges that our system load issue posed for both election officials and voters alike in today’s elections. We appreciate the public’s patience in resolving this matter. We want to assure Ontario voters that we will work to ensure this problem does not occur in future elections. It is important to note that at no time was the integrity of the system at risk of compromise, or in any way insecure.”
Some readers may recall that The Lindsay Advocate, citing Canadian experts on online elections, has written about the safety questions of online voting. That article pointed out the risks inherent in sending our votes through a complicated, international system (all internet traffic is routed around the world through many different countries). The problem experienced by Dominion happened in Toronto, although we do know it was “unauthorized.”
The Advocate asked Kay in a follow-up question this morning whether “unauthorized” means someone simply made a mistake (which just happened to affect the vote in 51 Ontario municipalities) or if it is something more sinister. Kay replied, “To my knowledge, there is no indication that malicious behavior or intent was involved. Our company is treating it as human error.”
Maria Evans, communications, advertising and marketing officer for the Cty announced the news of the extension around 8:30 pm at the Lindsay Armoury, where some candidates and their supporters were gathered to hear the official announcement of results. By this point, the election had already been extended by a half hour. The news was met with some incredulity in the room.
Charlie Clark, one of two candidates in Ward 7, was blunt in his assessment, telling the Advocate, “This is a ridiculous system. I think we should go back to a piece of paper and a ballot box. If we had a paper system, people would have voted all day. Now everyone is in suspense. And I’m concerned what this delay does in Ward 6, for example,” where the election there has been quite acrimonious.
Clark’s friend, and sole opponent in Ward 7, Pat O’Reilly, commented on the extension itself, stating “I think it [the extension] is probably the best thing to give everyone the opportunity to vote. This is happening in other municipalities.” (Clark and O’Reilly are the definition of what an election can be: a civil contest between two neighbours — but that is a story for an another day.)
Doug Elmslie, running for re-election in the new Ward 3, says he wanted some kind of electronic voting system like this in order for cottagers and seasonal residents to have a vote, too.
“They have a right to cast a ballot,” since they pay property taxes here, he says.
However, Elmslie now wonders if we need a “hybrid model,” to give out-of-town voters a chance to vote, but also to study all options again, including paper ballots.
“We need to sit down and look at this system and see if we can tweak it,” he says.
Some municipalities like Peterborough for example, chose to extend their voting by just one hour. When asked if other municipalities had extended voting by a full day, Dominion Voting’s Kay replied, “I do not know how many municipalities are extended by 24 hours, or what each customer has decided. Our focus is to ensure that customers have the support and information they need to make the best decision possible for their voters.”
City Clerk Cathie Ritchie said that her decision was made to allow people — who tried to vote within the specified time and were unsuccessful — to vote “during daylight hours.” This delay will also allow time for candidates (who have access to the database to see if a person has voted) to encourage people to vote who did not try to vote at all during the specified time.
Election results will be shared on the City’s website shortly after 8 pm. Members of the media, candidates, scrutineers and the public are welcome to view the results live at City Hall, 26 Francis Street, Lindsay.
The Lindsay Advocate will continue to monitor any statements from the City and Dominion Voting and update our readers as information becomes available.
— with files from Roderick Benns.