For the first time in St. Thomas, advance polling for the Oct. 22 vote was available via internet and telephone. However, the hoped-for technological turnaround in voter turnout doesn’t turn up in the numbers.
That’s according to a report presented to council at Monday’s (Nov. 5) reference committee meeting compiled by city clerk Maria Konefal.
It’s a comprehensive break-out of the balloting and there are numerous surprises, and the data may pave the way for further electronic advances in the 2022 municipal election.
Tim Hedden, who was unsuccessful in his bid to win a councillor seat nailed it with his observation, “Curious to see if it drives voter turnout up or just made it more convenient for those that already vote.”
In an interview this week, Konefal noted “The thing I found interesting is we didn’t have too much of a change in the percentage turnout. But, of the people who voted, 44 percent of them voted electronically. Most of that was by internet.”
So, of the 10,259 city residents who cast a ballot, more than 40 percent of them took advantage of advance polling. Just over 4,200 voted via internet and another 318 voted by telephone.
So Hedden was on the right track in that it is now more convenient for the people who were going to vote, but it did not drive more people out to cast a ballot.
In 2014, with construction of a new police headquarters a contentious ballot issue, the voter turnout was only 35.82 percent.
This year, with no real hot-button divisive issue and the introduction of electronic voting, the increase in turnout was minuscule at 36.09 percent.
The number of eligible voters this time around was up by just under 200 from four years ago.
A popular argument is electronic voting will encourage younger voters to participate.
Well, that didn’t happen in this limited test run.
Konefal advised, “The age of the electors has not really varied too much. Most of our electors are 45 or above. Despite what people say about older people not being technologically advanced, they are.”
In fact, 80 percent of those who voted were 45 years of age or older.
As for the dismally low turnout, Konefal is perplexed.
“I’m sure it’s the same everywhere. There are lots of studies about what impacts voter turnout and there is no definitive answer. A lot of things impact and you just don’t know why a particular person doesn’t want to vote. “And when we provided this extra opportunity electronically, it was all about making it more accessible, but you can’t hit people over the head to make them vote. If we spent $50,000 on advertising, would that have an impact? It’s up to the individual person.”
In spite of the tiny uptick in the turnout graph, Konefal is generally pleased with the voter embrace of electronics.
“It was very positive. I voted electronically because I wanted to test it. The average voting session on the internet lasted 2.7 minutes (for telephone balloting that increased to 5.5 minutes to complete). We had about 45 people outside of the country who went visiting or were elsewhere and they were able to vote.”
In fact, 47 residents cast their ballots from afar, including 39 in the U.S. and two from as far away as Italy.
And, unlike south of the border this week, no serious hiccoughs to report on.
“There were no glitches, not for us,” stressed Konefal, “but there were for other areas that use a different voting provider. We have a lot of fail-safe mechanisms.
“We had our own auditor – a staff member in city hall – who had certain codes and he was going in there trying to make fake votes and that came back negative and the company does the same.”
Can we anticipate an increase in the reliance of electronic voting four years from now? It’s time for due diligence, cautioned Konefal.
“I will do a report in a couple of years. By that time I will have scoped out what kinds of devices we can use as well. I will provide the options, but I want to know better what the costs might be. You can rent some of the equipment, so I want to put some thought into that.”
She continued, “Before I do that, I’m going to look at if we do go electronic, what kind of devices we could use. It has to be good for everybody.”
For those individuals who appreciate the satisfaction of placing your mark on a traditional ballot, rest assured that option will remain, although it adds to the expense.
“It was more costly to do both,” noted Konefal, “because I had to print ballots and I had to have more staff members at each voting place. I will still have to have staff members at voting places (in 2022).”
Whatever options Konefal presents to council, the final methodology and procedures to be employed have to be firmed up by Dec. 30 of the previous year.
WHERE ARE THE MINIMUM STANDARDS FOR DIGNITY?
In a late development yesterday (Nov. 9) this corner met with mayor-elect Joe Preston in the CASO station office of MPP Jeff Yurek in an attempt to clarify issues of responsibility when dealing with unlicensed residential homes in St. Thomas, specifically Walnut Manor, owned an operated by Niagara Supportive Living of Welland, Ontario.
In a nutshell, it’s a matter of which organization or level of government is responsible for ensuring a level of minimum standards when free enterprise butts head with the provision of basic requirements for vulnerable individuals living in a domiciliary facility such as accommodation, safety, health, and nutrition.
Preston stressed the residence is a for-profit operation which he is not opposed to, however, if the city is deemed the responsible authority for maintaining minimum standards, and is not doing so, then that needs to be addressed in some fashion.
In a recent conversation with St. Thomas-Elgin Social Services Director Elizabeth Sebestyen, she indicated progress is being made to introduce some form of regulatory standards for unlicensed facilities like Walnut Manor.
Back in June, members of council were in receipt of a comprehensive report from Tim Welch Consulting out of Cambridge, which undertook the city’s 10-year housing and homelessness plan.
The document also delved into what is referred to as informal residential care facilities (RCF) like Walnut Manor.
The housing report recommends the city craft a bylaw to license care facilities and beds not licensed by the province “To help protect the health and well-being of RCF tenants.”
Part of the solution, suggested Yurek, may be contained in much-anticipated changes to the province’s social assistance plan. Community Services Minister Lisa MacLeod will announce the details on Nov. 22.
In a statement, MacLeod stressed, “Ontarians deserve a system where those with disabilities are treated with dignity and where hard work and commitment by recipients is met by empowerment and trust from their government.”
Looming on the horizon are new fire sprinkler regulations slated to come into play in less than two months. Could the absence of compliance ultimately determine the fate of the residents of Walnut Manor?
1,500 AND COUNTING
Thursday night in Dallas, Joe Thornton logged his 1,500th NHL game. It’s one of several milestones the St. Thomas native can achieve this campaign.
He is one goal shy of the 400-goal mark, which would put him in the elite company of 10 other players to log that number of goals plus 1,000 assists.
Who could have imagined back in 1997 during the NHL draft Thornton, the first pick overall by the Boston Bruins, would be taking to the ice for his 21st season and already assured of his place in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
There’s a fascinating read on The Athletic website (theathletic.com) chronicling why, at the age of nine, Thornton switched from wearing number 2 on the back of his jersey to number 19, which has stuck with him throughout his lengthy NHL career.
The story opens with how a broken finger may very well have handed Thornton his ticket to the NHL.
THE READERS WRITE
Mayor-elect Joe Preston left no doubt about leading a winning team for the next four years. He posted on the City Scope Facebook page, “Looking forward to the great things council can do with the talent on it.”
And reader Bud Lorch is pleased with the return of Steve Peters to city council and, in particular, his proclamation “I’ll be fighting to make sure we are not becoming a platform for any one particular party of any stripe at the local level. That’s always been a big one for me.” That’s music to the ears of Lorch and he concluded, “And that’s why I’ve always supported Steve.”
FOR THE CALENDAR
A public meeting will be held beginning at 10 a.m., November 13 in Room 304 at city hall hosted by the Site Plan Control Committee to consider an application for three (7-9 storey) apartment buildings on the former Alma College site at 96 Moore Street.
For readers in Southwold township, and in particular Talbotville, the next council meeting is Tuesday (Nov. 13) in Fingal where the proposed subdivision consisting of 335 lots for single, detached residential dwellings could be up for approval by their elected representatives.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.”
– American drama critic George Jean Nathan
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