How technology is revolutionizing Ontario’s provincial elections

For the 2018 provincial election, Elections Ontario was faced with a challenge: how to best serve Ontario’s growing population and hire the large number of temporary workers required to deliver an election. “Our staffing model for elections was becoming increasingly unsustainable,” says Greg Essensa, the Chief Electoral Officer for Ontario. He adds, the province’s “population growth and the increase in the number of electoral districts for the 2018 general election meant we would need even more staff” for the 2018 election.

To mitigate growing staffing needs, as well as modernize the electoral process, Elections Ontario developed a plan to introduce technology in the polls through electronic poll books (ePoll Books) and vote tabulators. Election officials used ePoll books to strike voters’ names from the voters list before issuing them a ballot. Voters cast their ballot using vote tabulators, delivering faster and improved service to Ontario’s electors. “Introducing technology the way we did allowed us to better meet electors’ changing expectations for how services are delivered,” Essensa explained. “And we did it in a way that protected the integrity and security of the electoral process.”

As part of this change, Elections Ontario worked with Rogers to provide connectivity for the ePoll books across the province.

Case Study

Elections Ontario

A non-partisan office of the province’s Legislative Assembly, Elections Ontario is responsible for running provincial elections. The organization ensures provincial elections are independent, impartial, efficient, secure, transparent and accountable.

Challenges

A significant number of people are required to effectively run a provincial election—for the 2014 general election, Elections Ontario hired 76,000 temporary workers. Recruiting these short-term workers has become increasingly difficult for the organization, even as the provincial population has grown. Elections Ontario projected 76,000 workers to run the 2018 general election without the use of technology.

Previous elections saw voters directed to a specific table at their polling location where staff held the section of the paper voters list containing their names. Dividing the list this way often resulted in a long lineup at one table and no lineups at other tables in the same location.

“Electors got a less than optimal experience, and the work we required from our poll officials was out of step with current workplace practices,” says Essensa. “We needed to find a way to modernize a century-old process to better meet voters’ needs.”

Solution

By introducing technology in the polls, Elections Ontario overcame its staffing concerns and offered electors a more modern voting experience by implementing ePoll books and vote tabulators. While these two pieces of technology had been used before, it was only in jurisdictions with tens of thousands of eligible electors—not 10 million, as in Ontario in 2018. “This was the first time this technology had been used on such a large scale,” says Essensa.

Finding the right organization to help Elections Ontario introduce technology in the polls involved a lengthy search and a multi-stage selection process. Ultimately Rogers offered a “more nuanced understanding of our requirements and identified the services and organizations to meet them.”

Rogers connectivity provided the centralized, connected infrastructure to help make ePoll books powerful tools that supported Ontario’s democratic process. Voters presenting their voter information cards to staff with ePoll books were struck off the voters list—and recorded as having received a ballot. This information was then shared with all other ePoll books in near real time through Elections Ontario’s centralized cloud database, which housed the digital voters list on a secure and private network.

About 20,000 ePoll books connected to the Rogers Wireless Network processed over five million electors, with an average 98.6 percent of data syncing successfully throughout the day. Approximately half of the voting locations for the 2018 general election used this technology on Election Day, serving around 90 percent of electors.

The Numbers

  • An average of 6,096 voters were struck off the voters list every minute on election day
  • 3,700 voting locations were connected to the Rogers Wireless Network on election day
  • 98.6 percent connectivity was maintained throughout election day
  • Approximately 90 percent of electors voted at polls with technology
  • 76,000 temporary workers were projected for 2018; approximately 52,000 were actually hired

Results

Elections Ontario originally estimated the need for 76,000 temporary workers for the 2018 general election; with the introduction of technology in the polls, the organization was able to serve electors more efficiently with approximately 52,000 staff.

Digital dashboards at Elections Ontario headquarters displayed what was happening at individual polling stations and how voter traffic patterns differed by location. “This is valuable information,” says Essensa, “having these numbers can help us plan for the next election,” which will further improve the voter experience.

Essensa sees the introduction of technology in the provincial electoral process as a success. He concludes, “These changes made for a truly transformative election that put the needs of electors first.”

Do you want similar results?

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