A citizens' jury process was used by the City of Edmonton and the University of Alberta in order for local officials to evaluate the possibility of using Internet voting in future municipal elections, starting with a 2013 pilot project.
Problems and Purpose
The Edmonton Citizens’ Jury on Internet voting was implemented by the Centre for Public Involvement at the University of Alberta in collaboration with the City of Edmonton in November 2012 to advise local officials whether to proceed with the introduction of Internet voting as an option in future municipal elections, beginning with a pilot in 2013.
Background History and Context
The idea to use a Citizens’ Jury came from researchers at the University of Alberta’s Centre for Public Involvement (CPI). The fact that this deliberative method provides participants with a systematic, evidence-based education and engages them in a focused deliberation for technology assessment made it an appropriate approach to tackle a highly technical and controversial topic like Internet voting. Development of the Citizens’ Jury began in the late spring when the Centre’s Research Director, recruited academics to partake in a Research Committee, responsible for crafting the attitudinal surveys and designing an inclusive, balanced deliberative process. The committee of six was formed at the end of May 2012 and held eight meetings leading up to the Citizens’ Jury in November 2012. Half of the committee members were affiliated with CPI and the remaining members with other Canadian universities. Members were selected based on their expertise in elections, Internet voting, local politics and decision-making, deliberative democracy, and public participation. One member, Dr. Nicole Goodman, also prepared an Issues Guide that was used as an information resource for Jury members and roundtable participants. An Advisory Committee was also formed in the summer of 2012 to oversee the design and implementation of the Citizens’ Jury process. Membership included professors, municipal administrators, other government representatives, and practitioners. Participant recruitment was conducted in early November and the jury process took place from November 23 to 25, 2012.
The Citizens’ Jury was part of a robust public involvement process carried out concurrently with a pre-trial evaluation of Internet voting by city officials. In addition to the public deliberation component, the project included a security test that involved a mock “Jellybean election”, which allowed citizens to register and cast an online vote for their favourite colour jelly bean, roundtable advisory meetings with stakeholders (e.g. electors with special needs and seniors), and a series of online questionnaires. A total of six surveys were designed to measure a range of public attitudes toward Internet voting. Two of the surveys were administered to the general public, two to Jury participants (one during the selection process and the other afterward), and two were devised to survey citizens who participated in citizens’ roundtables. These roundtables offered additional members of the public, particularly seniors, feedback opportunities to express their thoughts and opinions regarding the possibility of using Internet voting in Edmonton. Taken together, these initiatives were carried out during a four-month consultation process, which took place from September 2012 to December 2012.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Centre for Public Involvement, University of Alberta, with a research grant from the City of Edmonton, was the principal organizing entity.
Investigators: Dr. Marco Adria and Dr. Kalina Kamenova
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The Jury was assembled by bringing together a group of Edmonton citizens that were representative of the city in socio-demographic and geographic terms, and also reflective of the community’s values and attitudes toward Internet voting. Specifically, a stratified random selection method was used to ensure that the Jury composition was a close approximation of the city population. Targeted recruitment was also undertaken to ensure the inclusion of representatives of visible minorities and other underrepresented groups. Between November 6 to 12, 2012, potential participants were screened for demographic characteristics and attitudes through a survey (n = 1349) administered by EKOS Probit, an Ottawa-based company providing survey research and recruitment services. Survey respondents were chosen through a list of randomly generated landline and cell phone numbers and contacted using an automated calling method. The demographic filters included age, sex, ethnicity, level of education, presence of a disability, children in the household, personal income, and municipal ward. Attitudinal questions probed trust in municipal government, internal and external efficacy, voting histories, likelihood of using Internet voting, confidence in online ballots and technology, and whether Internet voting was perceived as a good use of tax dollars. The strategic goal for juror selection was to avoid the inclusion of those with vested interests in the outcome of the jury process. Therefore, efforts were made to select participants who were open to learning and potentially changing their minds about online voting, rather than staunch proponents or critics who may be likely to advance a particular agenda and not fully participate.
Potential jurors were selected based on information collected through this process and were sent a package explaining eligibility, expectations, and process details. To be eligible to serve as a juror, prospective participants were required to be eligible to vote in Edmonton, attend all Jury sessions, and could not be employed with the city. Potential jurors were mailed an additional welcome letter and package once a reasonable composition was determined. Eighteen jurors were selected and initially confirmed participation, however, one juror opted out just before the deliberation, and a decision was made to proceed with seventeen participants. The entire process included about 20 hours of work, for which jurors were given an honorarium of $400 dollars. Travel assistance and childcare were provided if needed, and meals were supplied throughout the Jury weekend.
Methods and Tools Used
The Citizens' Jury convened from November 23 to 25, 2012 to deliberate on the following charge question: Should the City of Edmonton adopt Internet voting as an option in future general elections? The Jury was tasked with evaluating the viability and usability of this technology in the specific context of Edmonton. The process was moderated by two independent facilitators and included presentations by expert witnesses such as the Chief Electoral Officer of British Columbia, scholars in election studies and e-democracy, computer security experts, industry representatives, and municipal administrators from across the country. Both the facilitators and expert witnesses were instructed by the organizers to refrain from openly taking sides on the issue.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The Jury process was organized thematically, with presentations on major issues, including cybersecurity, the experiences of Canadian municipalities and other international jurisdictions with Internet voting, impact on voter turnout, and regulatory issues, among other topics.Presentations were followed by time for structured deliberations. On the last day, the jurors evaluated the evidence presented in an extended closed session, moderated by both facilitators. The Jury reached a ‘yes’ verdict on the charge question and further developed recommendations to city administration and council on how proceed, Table 5. This final session was closed to media, city officials and expert witnesses, however, it was observed by researchers and representatives of Elections Canada and Elections BC to ensure that procedures were followed and norms of deliberation were met.
The final Jury verdict favored introducing online ballots as an additional voting method in Edmonton municipal elections. Initially, sixteen jurors voted in favor, and one against the Internet voting proposal, however, after further deliberation, the verdict was achieved by consensus. The dissenting juror indicated that, although he opposed Internet voting in principle for reasons such as security concerns and some voters’ lack of computer skills, he still believed it was the way of the future and was willing to support the policy change.
Jurors cited several rationales for recommending the adoption of Internet voting. First, it was recognized that Internet voting improves accessibility, especially for persons with disabilities, the elderly, and others with limited mobility. Second, the deployment of Internet voting was perceived to provide added convenience for electors absent from the city during election time. Third, jurors pointed to the evidence of technical competence and Edmontonians’ readiness to use Internet voting. Finally, there was a shared vision of Edmonton’s leadership as the first municipality in the province to adopt digital technology for voting in elections.
Arguments opposing Internet voting were also articulated in the deliberation. Jurors agreed with assessments by computer security experts and did not recommend online voting for high-stake provincial and federal elections. In addition, there were concerns that citizens with limited computer skills would not be able to navigate the process of casting online ballots, and the group believed that some electors in the age group of 50+ might feel more comfortable with telephone voting. Therefore, they proposed to the city to include telephone voting as an additional voting option alongside Internet voting by 2017.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
City administrators showed confidence in the Citizens’ Jury process and its verdict by taking the recommendations to city council and advising that Edmonton proceed with an Internet voting pilot in the 2013 municipal elections. During the Jury event, the Edmonton City Clerk made a formal commitment to follow through with the Jury’s verdict by reporting to the media that she would recommend council proceed with the Internet voting proposal only if the Citizens’ Jury was supportive of this policy change in its final verdict. In case of an unsupportive verdict, the Clerk indicated she would present council with information about Internet voting and not a formal recommendation to adopt this policy option.
Rather surprisingly, a few months later councillors overruled the advice of both the Citizens’ Jury and city administration. After extensive deliberation in a session on February 6, 2013, councillors voted 11-2 against the Internet voting proposal. Many considerations went into this decision, but one prominent factor was a presentation delivered at an Executive Committee meeting on January 28, 2013 by an Edmonton computer programmer, Chris Cates. The meeting was called after Cates requested to speak to council regarding the policy proposal. At the meeting, he reported having been able to vote twice in the “Jellybean” mock election, but refused to provide proof that he had done so. Cates presented legitimate security concerns, many of which had been raised by computer scientists during the Jury process and considered by the jurors in their deliberations. Yet, he made security threats look much more tangible and imminent by insisting that the Internet voting system, which was tested in the mock election, had already been compromised. Interviews with some councilors suggests that Cates’ allegations of casting a duplicate vote confirmed council’s concerns and emphasized that more time was needed before adopting Internet voting. Another concern expressed by some members of council was that online voting might entice people to vote who do not typically participate, which might sway the balance of power in a forthcoming election. Additionally, Cates openly credited his own testimony and lobbying efforts against online voting as a primary contributor to Edmonton City Council’s decision to reject the proposal in official correspondence to Alberta’s Minister of Municipal Affairs. Although council may have had other, political reasons for the rejection, it seems Cates’ testimony may have had a particular influence.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
As outlined in an article by Kamenova and Goodman (2013), there are several lessons to be learned from this case. Firstly, the effectiveness of participatory processes such as a Citizens’ Jury is dependent on political commitment. Secondly, lay people are capable of making decisions on complex policy issues after experiencing evidence-based deliberation, even in a short period of time. Thirdly, citizens’ juries can enhance traditional decision-making processes, as administrative officials and elected representatives often do not have the time and/or resources to undergo an effective evaluation of a topic before making a decision. Lastly, if governments wish to incorporate public participation into policy-making, it may have to be institutionalized and made legally binding to be effective.
 Kamenova, Kalina, and Nicole Goodman. "The Edmonton Citizens’ Jury on Internet Voting." Canadian Parliamentary Review 36, no. 2 (2013).
 Kamenova, Kalina and Goodman, Nicole (2015) "Public Engagement with Internet Voting in Edmonton: Design, Outcomes, and Challenges to Deliberative Models," Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 11 : Iss. 2 , Article 4. Available at: http://www.publicdeliberation.net/jpd/vol11/iss2/art4