Starting today, members of Parliament can cast votes online

Starting today, members of Parliament can cast votes online-Milenio Stadium-Canada
MPs participating virtually in House of Commons proceedings will now have the option to vote via a remote voting app. (Sarah Sears/CBC)

Members of Parliament will be able to start casting votes online for motions and legislation with a new voting app being introduced in the House of Commons today.

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Voting by app is expected significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to record yays, nays and abstentions from MPs participating virtually in parliamentary proceedings, said senior officials from House of Commons administration who shared details of the new voting process this morning.

The voting app is accessible by mobile phones and tablets and will be used for the first time for two votes scheduled for this afternoon following question period — one on a motion presented by the Bloc Québécois calling for an increase to Old Age Security payments for people over the age of 65, and the second to send a government bill implementing the fall economic statement to committee.

Parliament has been operating in a hybrid form since May because the physical distancing imposed by the pandemic forced a reduction in the number of politicians and staff working in-person in the Commons. Most MPs have been participating in proceedings virtually via Zoom since then, and only a small number have been attending in-person.

Under the previous voting system, MPs present in the House chamber voted the traditional way while those participating virtually used a voice vote. Votes were recorded one at a time, which took upwards of 45 minutes per vote on every motion and amendment.

The new process will allow MPs to vote in the chamber or through the voting application if they’re participating virtually. The two processes will take place concurrently, and it’s expected to take about 12 to 15 minutes per vote.

How it works

MPs using the voting app will receive a push notification notifying them that a vote is underway. They must sign in using their parliamentary credentials and go through a multi-step authentication process.

Timers will count down the time until the vote begins and how much time is remaining during the official voting period. MPs will have 10 minutes to cast their vote and can change it at any time during the voting period.

MPs will be able to access information about what it is they’re voting on — the text of the motion and who presented it — through the app. They must vote in favour or against, or to abstain, and then take a photograph of themselves that will be put through a facial recognition scan to confirm their identity.

Videoconference-Milenio Stadium-Canada
The House of Commons has been meeting in a hybrid format since May, with a small number of MPs attending in-person and the rest participating virtually via videoconference. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

If an MP’s identify can’t be confirmed, their vote will be marked for review. They can also use the “raise hand” feature of Zoom to flag any problems and record a voice vote. Members who experience technical issues can also vote this way.

Votes will be displayed as they are recorded during the voting period on the CPAC television channel and online on the House of Commons website for members of the public to see.

Securing the voting system

Officials said a number of security measures are built into the app to keep outsiders from breaking in and that no security issues have emerged so far.

The security aspects of the voting system were developed in consultation with a team from the Communications Security Establishment, the national security agency focused on cybersecurity, the officials said.

In an interview on CBC’s The House that aired Saturday, Speaker Anthony Rota said two test simulations using the new voting app showed that it’s working well.

“It’s very exciting,” Rota said. “We’ve been adapting to what COVID-19 has been throwing at us and we’re just constantly making changes to make things work.”


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