Why don’t MPs vote electronically?

The arguments for and against one small change

The idea that MPs should vote on bills and motions electronically is an interesting case study in parliamentary reform.

On a certain level, it is a bit silly that MPs should have to stand one-by-one and the clerks should have to read out each of their names for their votes to be counted. For the sake of efficiency, MPs might instead, as representatives do in other jurisdictions, cast their votes electronically.

The McGrath committee recommended a move to an electronic system in its second report (at page 119 here). The committee decided that the non-electronic system was a poor use of time and resources. Members would vote at their desks and a display panel in the House would show the results (I imagine now we’d go with some kind of jumbotron hanging from the ceiling that could also be used to show highlights from QP during breaks in the action and incite the various sides to cheer louder). The McGrath committee also allowed that some votes might be done the old-fashioned way if there was sufficient desire to do so. In 2003, the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons recommended the idea of electronic voting in principle and sought further study.

So, on the one hand, it might save some time. On the other hand, there is a certain accountability to having to stand and show oneself to be casting a vote.

But there are also anthropological arguments to consider.

At a meeting held seven years after his committee’s final report, James McGrath (pronounced McGraw) suggested that electronic voting might, conversely, make it easier for dissent from the party line to be registered.

If we had electronic voting in the House, it would go a long way in freeing up the House in terms of the confidence convention. It’s awfully difficult to stand up and vote against your party knowing you’ve got the whip breathing down your neck and knowing full well that the consequences of what you’re doing, in addition to getting yourself a slot on The National that night, are going to eliminate any chances you have of getting on a junket in the future … by and large, if we are going to free up the private member, give him greater independence from the party whips, electronic voting would be a very useful and helpful step in that direction.

Former Progressive Conservative MP Patrick Boyer expressed similar thoughts at a forum in 2006.

Three times when I was in Parliament, on the government side, I actually voted against legislation that the government was sponsoring and that I was expected to be supporting. It is not the easiest thing in the world when names are being called out row by row, it is being televised, everybody’s watching, and you’re standing not with your party but with the opposition, and voting with the opposition. At that point the jeers and the catcalls come, and stories such as “Split in the party ranks.” This is punishing, and it sends an inhibiting message to parliamentarians.

I think electronic voting could overcome some of the institutional weight that is suppressing a lot of MPs. They talk about free votes in Parliament. Well, the real way to make that happen is to bring in electronic voting.

At that same forum, former Liberal house leader Don Boudria has said that he nearly had agreement to go forward with electronic voting in 1997.

There is, conversely, an argument against electronic voting though—explained to me by former NDP MP Bill Blaikie—that has basically nothing to do with the actual registering of votes. Here is Mr. Blaikie, a member of the McGrath committee, at that forum in 2006.

I have to say that even though I signed onto to the McGrath committee, I’ve spent the rest of my parliamentary life fighting against electronic voting. I always felt that the expectation for electronic voting was inflated. The only reason I was for it in the first place was that I thought it would actually make free voting easier. The McGrath committee did recommend that on special occasions you retain the right to have a standing vote on a big vote, on a constitutional vote or whatever. But there is an unintended consequence of electronic voting if people just come in and shove the card into their desks and walk out again.

I have found that a lot of parliamentary business is done in the melee before a vote. That is when all the members of Parliament actually get to see one another. We do not see each other in the parliamentary restaurant any more. We do not even see many of our caucus any more. People have become much more atomized and individualized. But before a vote, you have all 308 people milling around on the floor. That is when I go to see the Minister of Immigration about some case. That is when I go to talk to the Minister of Transport about a labour dispute I have. That is when I do a lot of parliamentary business. We could lose this as one of the unintended consequences of having electronic voting.

It is periodically useful to be reminded that MPs are, in fact, human beings.

Mr. Blaikie’s view is also seemingly supported in Britain. The UK Parliament’s website explains its voting procedures here and included is a note under the heading, “Why aren’t divisions electronic?”

Plans to introduce electronic or mechanical voting systems in Parliament have been considered but no single alternative gained great support. Also, physically congregating in the voting lobbies gives the Members a good opportunity to talk and conduct business with each other in an informal setting. 




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Why don’t MPs vote electronically?

  1. Let voters vote electronically and we won’t need MPs.

    • Because everyone in the country is going to spend their days voting on clauses, amendments and bills?

      • Why not? It’s not like people have jobs or want to spend time with their families or any of that crap.

        • LOL exactly. Plus they have no background in any of the things voted on.

          • Much like most of our MP’s

          • Well that depends on the MP. Certainly they get enough backgrounders and briefings and videos and studies to do the job. They are swamped with reading material and soon learn to flip to the back and read ‘conclusions’ before investing any more time in it.

          • I don’t think they can understand the backgrounders they get Emily. According to Bill Blaikie they can’t even find each other unless you lock them all in the same room.

          • LOL well that’s entirely possible….we seem to elect the worst possible candidates anymore.

          • No other options, back room money and media buy elections and limit the choices on the ballot to only statism, more money for government and less for you.

            This way they can bailout buddies, bailout banks for future executive positions, bailout unions and give themselves obscene raises to go with their 10.4% annual pension growth guarantees.

            We are the grunts that pay for it. Even if on welfare, minimum wage poverty and paying income taxes, they have $45 billion of hidden spending taxes to get you, even on FOOD they have tax.

            We have become economic slaves of statism. No money for other peoples jobs as we pay tax inflated prices and far too much in income/other taxes.

          • Dave is a loon, with crackpot economic theories.

          • Most MPs are puppets to their leaders and DO NOT read the material. They do what they are told to do by the back room money bought leaders or they will not see lobby money next election.

          • Bunk

          • No need for much background to know that bailing out banks and unions pensions, with big union raises on the backs of taxpayers that do not get bailouts and do not get pension bailouts or government wages is really statism slavery.

            We are not democratic. No less governemtn option on my rigged ballot. I only get to choose who gets more of my money for doing less for it.

          • Better yet, move to Somalia.

        • Government devalues you as they want you to work harder and pay more taxes. Want jobs? Have government taxes us less on income and hidden spending taxes so we have money to spend on your job.

          Government is the most expensive item in any Canadian life.

      • Yep, so byzantine bureaucratic we get nothing effective done in government but they sure are effective in taxing us more, deceiving us with devalued money and giving themselves raises and pension bailouts.

        • Like I said, move to NZ

    • MPs could then earn a honest living and becomes sales people to sell us on the needs.

      Then after watching a 5 minute video we vote. Harder to lobby bribe 14 million voters than 308 corrupt self serving politicians and 3 party leaders….

      The whole idea is that you do not really have any effective input to government. That is why we will not see citizens who pay for it ever get a binding direct vote on anything. We don’t manage government, government manages us for our money.

      Its why they are inefficient, wasteful, corrupt and will not fire expense report embezzling Senators, its all about generating consuption waste.

      Want jobs? Leave people with more of their money to spend on other peoples jobs. It is that simple. But hey, politicians say one thing and do another all the time.

  2. electronic voting would make parliament too much like a game show for my taste. Survey says…

    • Congress votes electronically

      • Actually you are right. Perfect proof is the recent debt expansion on TV, they even showed the ballot boards in real time.

        Want to get rid of governemtn corruption? Get 14 million voters involved. Harder to bribe the people who really pay for it than a few puppet leaders.

        • We already went over that Dave.

  3. Make it so that they have to be physically present to vote; have actuators at their benches. That gets the best of both worlds.

    I’m assuming as well that the system would record how each person votes (as opposed to an anonymous aggregate count), so we could still determine the voting record of our MP should we so choose…

    • Or better yet, dock pay and benefits if they don’t attend. Parliament is about 100 or less days a year, a part time job really except for the PM and immediate cabinet.

    • It is more fiscally conservative to have the representatives vote and participate in parliamentary proceedings from their home electoral districts.

      • As noted in the article, there is a real benefit to face-to-face meetings with peers to discuss issues and hammer out solutions. Sometimes, emails and virtual meetings just don’t cut it (I’m speaking from experience – though in the business world, not the political arena; I expect it’s even truer in politics).

  4. Why not let the people vote directly?

    Here is why, our ballots are limited to candidates back room money bought. They are proxies, trained to lie and decieve us then sell us out for bailouts, defective F35s, fake lakes, union pension bailouts, 10.4% and inflation guarantees for government, give us devalued money and inflation….then slide the tax tables to pay us less pensions and ta us more like slaves.

    Not one option on our rigged ballot of less government, more efficient government, more cost effective governemtn and less taxes. We tax people so much for governemtn kids we don’t have kids and spend less on other peoples jobs. No other outcome on any ballot option other than who gets more of our money to do less.

    Yep, the ruse of Canadian democracy. We don’t even have recall, no referendum and no recourse, your proxy MP and PM are in essence, term dictators others chose for your illusion of democracy.

    Its why the governemtn fears the electronic vote. Imagine the power shift if the people could vote directly without the lobby bribe influences….woould banks be bailoed out? Would unions get pension bailouts when your pension is smashed with taxes, devalued money and inflation with pathetic returns? Would government unions in Canada be paid double their USA counterparts and paid more than you? Would we be buying defective F35s and repairing rusty subs while disabled lived in poverty?

    Hey, its all about deceiving people out of our money to waste on power politics and corruption. No mafia leaders or governemtn corrupt mayors in jail tonight says it all.

  5. Electronic voting would be more likely if the urban areas were appropriately represented in the federal legislature, as internet penetration is correlated with population density. Enlarging the legislature, a larger proportion of the population being enfranchised and if proportional representation were implemented would also increase the probability of electronic voting to occur, as these actions would reduce partisanship and lower the median voting age. Danny Handelman

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