Province rejects use of electronic vote counting machines in 2024 election

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post. A sign showing the locations of the 2023 Saskatchewan by-election at the Northgate Mall on Thursday, August 10, 2023 in Regina.

Trillian Reynoldson, Regina Leader-Post

Although electronic vote counting technology was deemed successful during the province’s latest byelections, the governing Saskatchewan Party is rejecting its use in the 2024 general election.

Chief Electoral Officer Michael Boda had recently appeared before the Board of Internal Economy (BOIE) to request the acceptance of six proposed directives.

The directives that would allow changes to polling divisions, the polling period, and voting by mail were accepted, while electronic poll books/voting record, vote counting equipment and voting anywhere were rejected.

Electronic vote counting equipment had been tested during the byelections, in tandem with electronic poll books — a device that manages the list of approved voters for an electoral region.

According to Elections Saskatchewan, it took 26 minutes to count ballots from 15 ballot boxes at 15 voting locations where counting machines were used. The machines weren’t used at the 16 additional one-day voting locations in Lumsden-Morse, where manual hand counting was not completed until 10 p.m. that evening.

Boda said in a statement his office had been working with the BOIE, the province’s registered political parties and stakeholders since 2014 to determine a modern path for Saskatchewan’s election system. A modernization initiative was established over elections in 2020, 2024, and 2028, and the six proposed directives were a part of that plan.

Boda was asked to bring forward two new directives in September 2023, including one that allows the use of electronic poll books, and another allowing changes to ballot counting that would address risks introduced by the elimination of vote counting equipment.

In a statement, Government House Leader Jeremy Harrison defended the province’s decision not to support electronic vote counting equipment for future general elections.

“This option was considered and rejected unanimously by the legislative assembly,” he said.

“The Government has further made clear that we did not support the use of electronic vote counting machines in byelections, but acknowledge the authority of the CEO to implement them, given his unique authorities for the conduct of byelections.”

Harrison said a ballot cast by hand should be counted by hand.

“Our view is that the integrity — and perception of integrity — of our election system is best served by officials conducting the ballot count while being observed by accredited scrutineers.”

In a statement, the Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan supported electronic voting machines and encouraged the voting process to “move forward into the modern world.”

Interim Leader Rose Buscholl said electronic vote counting machines helped speed up the counting process, provided accurate results and are cheaper than hand counting methods. She said she can’t understand why the Sask. Party is ruling out their use in future elections.

“All of the Parties’ Chief Official Agents and another member had an opportunity to see these machines at work, and no one at that meeting was in opposition to them at the time, not even Sask. Party representatives,” she said.

“This is about control and how the Sask. Party wants to control the democratic process. To completely reject voting machines is not modernization, it is just paranoia.”