Liberals say no to mandatory and online voting

The Liberal government says it will not pursue mandatory or online voting for federal elections.

The Liberals had raised the ideas for consideration in their 2015 election platform and tasked the special committee on electoral reform with studying the possibilities.

But MPs on the special committee were divided on the merits of mandatory voting and concerned about the security of online voting, and recommended against pursuing either. 

In a formal response to the committee's report, submitted on Monday, Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould said the government agrees with the committee.

"While Canadians feel that online voting in federal elections would have a positive effect on voter turnout, their support is contingent on assurances that online voting would not result in increased security risks," Gould wrote. "We agree."

A Liberal adviser publicly suggested mandatory voting in a 2014 paper. 

Voting has been compulsory in Australia since 1924. Any eligible voter who does not cast a ballot must provide a valid excuse or pay a $20 fine. Turnout in the last Australian federal election was 95 per cent. 

The Liberals say they are committed to finding other ways of encouraging voter turnout. Legislation currently before Parliament would allow citizens to use the voter information card for identification purposes at the polls and restore Elections Canada's ability to promote voting.

The Liberal response restates that the government won't be pursuing electoral reform, as Gould announced in February.

"The electoral system is foundational to any democratic system, and any changes to how we vote must have the broad support of Canadians," Gould writes. 

"As stated in my mandate letter released publicly on February 1, 2017, 'A clear preference for a new electoral system, let alone a consensus, has not emerged. Furthermore, without a clear preference or a clear question, a referendum would not be in Canada's interest.' Changing the electoral system is not in my mandate as Minister of Democratic Institutions."

The electoral-reform debate hasn't entirely faded from view in the two months since Gould announced that change was not in her mandate.

NDP reform critic Nathan Cullen recently embarked on a national series of town hall meetings on the topic. And Fair Vote Canada, an organization that promotes proportional representation, participated in the recent set of byelections in hopes of "sending a strong message" to the Liberals.