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Glitches are considered unlikely to curb online voting ‘tide’ sweeping across Ontario

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A technical glitch that stymied online voting in dozens of locations across Ontario may cause some municipalities to think twice about using it as an election tool. Yet that’s unlikely to stop the momentum of the system, as it has grown exponentially over a short time, experts say.

“Maybe we’ll see some municipalities drop it, maybe we’ll see some municipalities do a hybrid model,” said Nicole Goodman, director of the Centre for e-Democracy at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

“But for the most part I think we’re going to continue to see online voting being used because it works really well at the local level, based on the social science research and interviews with municipalities and their experiences.”

On Monday, election night in Ontario, 51 municipalities using Denver, Colo.-based Dominion Voting Systems had problems. Some opted to extend voting by an hour or two, but others pushed the deadline back a full 24 hours.

In a statement late Monday, Dominion blamed an unnamed Toronto company for limiting incoming online voting traffic. Dominion said the issue was resolved in 90 minutes, but many voters still complained of problems. 

While Dominion experienced problems, online voting organized by Halifax-based Intelivote Systems in 99 Ontario municipalities appeared to go off without any major glitches.

Of the 444 municipalities in Ontario, 194 used some form of online voting. (Erik White/CBC)

“[Dominion has] been involved in a lot of very large elections that have been successfully completed,” said Dean Smith, president of Intelivote Systems. “But you know, this type of thing is something that you’re always trying to prepare for.’

194 municipalities used online voting

For this election, of the 444 municipalities in Ontario, 194 used some form of online voting. It’s a huge increase since just 15 years ago, when, in 2003, only 12 municipalities used it as a voting tool. By 2010, it had increased to 44, more than doubled in 2014 to 97 and doubled again in 2018. 

If the trend continues well over 90 per cent of municipalities could be using online voting in the near future, said Aleksander Essex, an assistant professor of software engineering at Western University.

Some cities have already declared that they’re not going to use it in 2022, meaning there won’t be 100 per cent saturation, he said.

“But the trend right now is exponential growth. It’s just doubling and doubling and doubling. So it’s sweeping across the province. It’s a tide sweeping across.”

Older voters are the main users

And the reason that uptake is double in each election cycle,  according to Goodman, is the benefits realized from online voting. 

Those include improved accessibility for voters, particularly older voters, who are the main users of online voting, she said. And that has translated to increased turnout at the municipal level in Ontario.

In Canada, online voting is only used in Ontario and Nova Scotia, but several provinces have legislation that would allow municipalities to move forward with it, Goodman said.

And it’s already been used for voting by political parties, unions and other organizations. Meanwhile, Prince Edward Island used online voting in its 2016 plebiscite on electoral reform

“There’s a culture of support for online voting in Canada that is actually stronger than in a lot of other countries, and we see this from a lot of surveys of public attitudes,” Goodman said. “So people here, voters want online voting.”

But not all municipalities are sold on the idea. Toronto, the largest city in the Canada, declined to use online voting, citing security concerns.  And so far, the provinces and the federal government have not included it as an option for their elections.

However, “they’re all looking at it,” said Essex.

While he acknowledges the growth of online voting, Essex has expressed his concerns about it. He questioned whether it does, in fact, improve voter turnout.

“The real driver of turnout is political engagement,” he said. “I talked to election managers who said you can stick an iPad in front of a youth voter and they still won’t vote.”

Security concerns

Essex said computer security technologists around the world have some fundamental concerns about online voting. 

“But even more fundamental than security is quite simply the transparency and accountability,” he said. 

Online voting is “worse in every possible dimension — accountability, transparency, security, privacy.”

A big issue, he said, is the challenge of verifying the integrity of online votes. 

“The vendor shows up with the memory card in an envelope. The clerk takes the card, puts it into a city computer, the results pop out and then a winner is declared,” he said. “And if I’m a scrutineer observing this I’m going like, ‘What the hell did I just witness?’

Aleksander Essex, a professor at Western University who studies cryptography and cybersecurity, says computer security technologists around the world have some fundamental concerns about online voting. (Colin Butler/CBC)

“Show me a proposal for an [online] voting system that produces some kind of public evidence that my vote counted so that I don’t have to just trust you and take your word for it.” 

At the very least, Essex said, there need to be universal standards and regulations for online voting. 

While Goodman disagrees with Essex on the advantages of online voting, they are working together to come up with technical, operational and legal standards or guidelines.

“This would not only help to boost technical knowledge in municipalities because it would allow them to better vet vendors and it would hold them to a higher minimum level security standards.

“But it would also create or put in place some logistical information like what do we do if there is an issue.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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