Online voting in 51 Ontario municipalities marred by election-day ‘system load issue’

Click to play video: 'On line voting issues raises questions and concerns'
On line voting issues raises questions and concerns
Online voting crash causes questions and concerns in Kingston. – Oct 23, 2018

A company that provides election tabulation software in Canada and the United States is blaming a Toronto service provider for choking online voting traffic in 51 Ontario municipalities on Monday evening, which caused many cities and towns to extend their voting periods.

The system issues surfaced around 6 p.m. ET and lasted approximately 90 minutes, according to a statement from Dominion Voting Systems.

The Canadian company said it wasn’t aware of the technical difficulties – which caused many online voting systems to slow down drastically or go down altogether – until municipalities began flagging them.

“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,” said the statement, distributed by Kay Stimson, Dominion’s vice-president of government affairs.

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“Dominion regrets the challenges that our system load issue posed for both election officials and voters alike in (Monday’s) elections … We want to assure Ontario voters that we will work to ensure this problem does not occur in future elections.”

The company in its statement did not identify the third-party provider that reportedly limited the system’s bandwidth.

In response, many municipalities affected stretched their voting hours by an extra hour or two on Monday night, while others declared emergencies under the Municipal Elections Act and extended their voting period for a full day.

While Dominion said the system glitches were resolved within an hour and a half, some municipalities reported that their issues began earlier and lasted longer.

Kingston, for example, said officials realized their online voting system was down around 5:45 p.m. and that it wasn’t restored until after 8 p.m. The city extended its voting hours until 9:15 p.m. on Monday in response.

Meanwhile, the Town of Woolwich reported stop-start activity, saying its online system first stopped accepting ballots around 6 p.m. Once Dominion began working on the issue, the system began accepting ballots again “very slowly” and then timed out again shortly after 6:30 p.m., a statement from the town said.

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WATCH: Pickering candidate believes online voting glitch caused her to lose the election. Tom Hayes reports.

Click to play video: 'Pickering candidate believes online voting glitch caused her to lose the election.'
Pickering candidate believes online voting glitch caused her to lose the election.

Woolwich has extended its voting period until 8 p.m. on Tuesday.

For several municipalities, like Kingston and Brantford, the 2018 municipal election was their second time offering online voting and using Dominion’s services. Spokespeople for both municipalities said they experienced no issues in 2014 like those on Monday.

Aside from the 51 municipalities affected, no other cities and towns in Ontario reported technical issues on election day.

Jonathan Rose, an associate professor in the department of political studies at Queen’s University, said a “real concern” moving forward is not knowing how many people gave up on voting as a result of the technical problems across the province, and how those issues might have impacted their opinion of online voting and of the election system.

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“What it does, if it continues, is it creates uncertainty about the legitimacy of the whole process, and you definitely don’t want that, because once the legitimacy of the election is called into question, voter turnout will decline, and it’s already too low,” he said.

Dominion Voting Systems said in its statement the bandwidth issues “at no time” compromised the system’s integrity and security.

But Rose said security should continue to be a topic of discussion as more jurisdictions adopt online voting systems and perhaps use the same company for those services.

“It’s the same private company that operates all of these online voting systems throughout the province, and how the vote is encrypted and where the data is stored, is really an important issue,” he said. “Research has shown that in other places, the data is actually stored in servers around the world, making it very easy to hack. So we have a long way to go before this is a fully secure system.”

WATCH: City of Kingston’s voting hours extended due to online voting glitch

Click to play video: 'Ontario Municipal election: Voting hours extended in Kingston due to online voting issues'
Ontario Municipal election: Voting hours extended in Kingston due to online voting issues

Some of the municipalities that extended voting until 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 23:

Ottawa Valley

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  • City of Pembroke
  • Town of Petawawa
  • Town of Renfrew
  • Township of Laurentian Valley
  • Township of Whitewater Region

Barrie-area municipalities

  • Town of Innisfil
  • Township of Oro-Medonte
  • Township of Springwater

Muskoka and Simcoe County regions

  • City of Owen Sound
  • County of Simcoe
  • District Municipality of Muskoka
  • Town of Bracebridge
  • Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury
  • Town of Collingwood
  • Town of Gravenhurst
  • Town of The Blue Mountains

Southwestern Ontario

  • Township of Wellesley
  • Township of Woolwich

Northern Ontario

  • City of Greater Sudbury

Some of the municipalities that extended voting to a later time on Monday night:

  • City of Brantford
  • City of Cambridge
  • City of Kingston
  • City of Peterborough
  • City of Pickering

— With files from Darryn Davis and the Canadian Press

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