Unwilling to plunge head first into online voting, city council did reach a consensus Monday to collectively dip a toe into the water for the 2018 municipal election.
While one councillor called casting a ballot online “inevitable,” another worried about ensuring each eligible elector was limited to a single vote. But after healthy debate, council confirmed paper ballots as the primary method of voting in the next trip to the polls – to be counted through the use of electronic vote tabulators – with internet and telephone voting to be introduced as alternatives for advance polls only.
Whether the new options increase voter participation over the dismal 35.8 percent turnout in the 2014 municipal election in St. Thomas is the great unknown, conceded city clerk Maria Konefal.
“There may be a small increase,” she speculated, adding there is often “a small surge in interest when new methods are involved.”
Prompting Coun. Gary Clarke to caution, “The real issue is voter apathy . . . I don’t think we’ll get the results we think we will.”
Mayor Heather Jackson was in agreement.
“It’s inevitable we move we move in this direction,” stressed Coun. Mark Tinlin. “It’s easier, quicker and more accommodating.”
However, he questioned the logic in limiting online and telephone voting to advance polls only.
Coun. Steve Wookey reminded members of the failed attempt to conduct Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) high school testing online last October. A cyber-attack slowed down or crashed computers, forcing the plug to be pulled on the Grade 10 student trial.
“If it goes swimmingly (the advance poll) then we can extend it,” suggested Wookey.
In her report to council, Konefal noted in 2014, approximately 22 per cent of Ontario municipalities conducting an election employed some form of internet voting. She added recent studies indicate online voting is most popular with middle-age electorate.
In the last municipal vote, Konefal indicated 40 per cent of eligible city voters were aged 44 to 64 and 30 per cent were older than 65.
Furthermore, Konefal stressed in order to comply with the Municipal Elections Act, the city “must prepare a plan regarding the identification, removal and prevention of barriers that affect electors and candidates with disabilities.
As such, Aylmer and the Municipality of West Elgin will employ internet and telephone voting in 2018.
Konefal pointed out online voting means an elector can vote from any location with an available internet connection by using a computer, tablet or cell phone. With telephone voting, an individual would need a touch-tone dial pad.
Internet and telephone voting would be available 24 hours per day during an advance voting period, which could range from 7 to 14 days.
She explained electors who wish to use the internet to cast their vote are directed to a secure voting site where they will be required to login using a voter identification or PIN and other authenticator. Once the elector has voted, a ballot receipt is displayed indicating that the vote has been cast.
In spite of the increased accessibility and privacy for electors with disabilities, Clarke indicated, “I would rather spend more money on paratransit to get people out to vote.”
The city had until the end of April to adopt a bylaw authorizing electors to employ an alternative method of voting that does not require them to attend at a polling station to cast a ballot.