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The head of the agency in charge of federal elections says it's time to modernize Canada's elections, including testing online voting and ending a ban on publishing early election results.

In a report on the May 2 election, released Wednesday, Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand writes about his plan to test online voting and encourages parliamentarians to update the Elections Act.

Improvements to the electoral process, Mayrand writes, will depend on changes to the law.

"Elections Canada has reached a point where the limited flexibility of the current legislation no longer allows us to meet the evolving needs of electors and candidates," Mayrand reports. "We look forward to working with parliamentarians as we prepare for the 42nd general election."

Mayrand says he's allowed to carry out studies on alternative voting methods, subject to approval by the committee on procedure and House affairs.

"Elections Canada has been examining internet voting as a complementary and convenient way to cast a ballot. The chief electoral officer is committed to seeking approval for a test of internet voting in a byelection held after 2013."

The rise of social media makes it harder to enforce a ban on publishing election results before polls close in other regions, Mayrand writes.

"The growing use of social media puts in question not only the practical enforceability of the rule, but also its very intelligibility and usefulness in a world where the distinction between private communication and public transmission is quickly eroding. The time has come for Parliament to consider revoking the current rule."

Section 329 of the Canada Elections Act bans the reporting of election night results in areas where polls are still open. The CBC and Bell Media, owner of CTV, sought to challenge the ban in court at the outset of the 2011 election campaign, on the grounds it violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is difficult to enforce, particularly in light of the popularity of social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

The Ontario Superior Court refused to hear the case on an expedited basis, arguing the issues were too complex for a quick hearing. The Elections Canada report notes the case is expected to be heard in March, 2012.

The report also says Parliament needs to take another look at third-party advertising rules, pointing out the blurring lines between advertising and non-advertising with social media and other technology. Parliament may want to exclude all third-party internet-based communications from the law, Mayrand says, "except perhaps communications placed for a fee by the originator on another site."

The report suggests MPs and senators should also look at online nominations, including electronic signatures, mobile advance polls for rural and remote areas, and making poll staffing and tasks more flexible.

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