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Updated: 18th October 2018 18:06

Elections Alberta to test new voting technologies in Calgary-Lougheed byelection

Voters in the Calgary-Lougheed byelection will see some new technology at their polling station on Dec. 14.

Vote tabulators and other machines will be tried for the first time in a provincial vote

Pamela Renwick with Elections Alberta demonstrates how the voter assist terminals will help people with physical disabilities cast their ballots independently. (CBC)

Voters in this month's Calgary-Lougheed provincial byelection will get the chance to vote using new technologies. 

At least, technologies that are new to Calgary.

Elections Alberta is conducting a pilot project, which may eventually result in these technologies being used in a future provincial election.

The new system includes:

  • Electronic poll books to help check in voters at polling stations.
  • Voting tabulators to count the paper ballots.
  • Voter assist terminals, which allow people with physical disabilities to vote independently.

Pamela Renwick, the director of operations and communications with Elections Alberta, said the agency wants try these devices to see if they can make voting more efficient.

"We're going to reduce line-ups. Electors are going to be able to go to any of the tables at their polling locations. They're going to see results coming out really quickly on election night," said Renwick. 

Same process, quicker results

The move to electronic poll books, which will be a first for Elections Alberta, will see each polling station equipped with a Chromebook computer. It can be used by election workers to give them direct access to a digital voters' list.

Voters on the list are being mailed a vote card, which they present at the polling station for scanning to confirm they are on the list.

If a voter doesn't have the vote card, their name or address or even a driver's licence can be offered to confirm their spot on the voters' list.

Then they get a ballot to mark with their candidate choices, as has been the practice in past elections.

That ballot is then placed by the voter in a protective sleeve and taken to a tabulator machine. It is fed into the tabulator, which records the vote and the paper ballot drops into a box below it.

Tabulators 'completely standalone'

Renwick said there should not be any voter concerns about the security of the system nor the secrecy of their ballot choice.

"These tabulators are completely standalone. They're not connected to the internet in any way," she said. "They're plugged into the wall and they have a battery back-up on them."

After polls have closed, the tabulator can quickly provide the results of all the votes received on that machine.

With the paper ballots being preserved, a recount can be done if there are any concerns about the results. 

Voter assist terminals allow independence

The voter assist terminal allows anyone with a physical disability to be able to cast a ballot independently.

Renwick said the system comes with a hand-held controller, paddles and a "sip and puff device."

When combined with a headset that helps navigate the elector to select the candidate of their choice, the terminal marks the ballot and feeds it into the tabulator. 

Renwick said the tabulators and the voter assist terminal were used by Elections Alberta in advance polls for a 2014 byelection.

But she said the Calgary-Lougheed byelection will be the first time in an Alberta provincial vote that all voting will be done using the new technologies.

Leasing the machines will add $125,000 to the cost of the byelection. Recent provincial byelections have cost between $200,000-260,000. 

It's possible these technologies could be used province-wide in a future Alberta election.

But Renwick said that would require a change in the Election Act and an increase in the budget at Elections Alberta.

'A lot quicker and more efficient'

Officials held an orientation session on Friday for the candidates running in the Calgary-Lougheed byelection.

Liberal leader David Khan, who is one of the seven candidates in the Dec. 14 contest, sees no problems with the pilot project and voters should have little trouble adjusting.

"It seems simple because they still have a piece of paper and they put an X in a box and then it's fed into a machine," said Khan. "It should be, I hope, a lot quicker and more efficient." 

Advance polls will be held from Dec. 6 to 9.

The voter assist terminal for disabled voters will only be available at the Elections Alberta returning office at Spruce Meadows.

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