Well, it seems paper ballots are just so last election.
After substantial discussion Monday (Nov. 15) city council unanimously favoured a report from city clerk Maria Konefal calling for an all-electronic vote in the 2022 municipal election.
In other words, constituents will be able to vote by internet or telephone with no paper ballots. To accommodate those who prefer to vote in person, a system of mobile voting kiosks with computer tablets will be established.
Konefal advised there is some work to be done on the latter option but it will be in place for the municipal vote with clear directions on how to participate in this fashion.
In the 2018 municipal vote, electors cast paper ballots at one of four voting locations on voting day itself.
There was no in-person voting using paper ballots during the advance voting period and no electronic voting on voting day.
In total, 10,218 electors voted as follows: 55.7% by paper ballot, 41.2% by internet ballot and 3.1% by telephone ballot.
Voter turnout was 35.9%.
In her report to council, city clerk Maria Konefal advises, “the average voting session length for internet ballots was 2.7 minutes, while the average length for telephone ballots was 5.5 minutes.
“I don’t see any reason why we would want to force people to use the internet or telephone ballot.”
Several members of council had numerous questions and requested clarification on key considerations, but only Coun. Jim Herbert was adamant he would not support the elimination of paper ballots.
After some broad generalizations on who votes using what method, Herbert continued, “If you’re going to force the senior citizen to vote by internet, I think you are going to have a struggle with it.
“A lot of seniors don’t have the technology, they don’t have computers, they’re not online.”
A complete misguided example of oversimplification on the part of Herbert. No doubt many seniors are willing to prove him wrong.
Herbert continued, “I don’t see any reason why we would want to force people to use the internet or telephone ballot.
He stressed, “I personally wouldn’t support his. We should put it on a ballot at election time and let people decide for the 2026 election if they prefer to vote by internet or keep the paper ballot in place.
“I won’t support this motion.”
When it came time to vote Herbert ran to catch up with the rest of council who saw the merits of such a system.
“Some people may have a better comfort level going to a formal voting station knowing they have the technological support there.”
Coun. Steve Peters admitted, “I too like to cast a ballot on election day. But I am prepared to forego the paper ballot . . . if staff can provide use of tablet kiosks at limited times and locations.
“Individuals who want to go out and vote like me on election day,” continued Peters, “I’m just not marking an ‘X’ on a piece of paper, I am going to do it at an electric kiosk.
“Some people may have a better comfort level going to a formal voting station knowing they have the technological support there.
“So, I’m supportive of going forward.”
If the voting kiosks were also available for advance polling, urged Peters.
“I’m not sure where the details are that tell us that seniors aren’t using electronic devices, because I certainly receive an awful lot of information, not on the telephone anymore, but through either social media or emails to the mayor.”
“If we could have the electronic stations with people there to assist as needed, I think we can move forward,” added Coun. Gary Clarke. “And move to the next generation of voting.”
“I will be supporting,” enthused Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands, “because I believe anything that encourages more people to get out and vote, allowing and making use of more flexible arrangements, providing more variety, will also increase the opportunities for people to get out and vote.”
Eager to wade into the discussion, Mayor Joe Preston observed, “I’m not sure where the details are that tell us that seniors aren’t using electronic devices, because I certainly receive an awful lot of information, not on the telephone anymore, but through either social media or emails to the mayor.”
“We would have kiosks at various locations and provide any assistance for those individuals who do not have access to a telephone, computer or tablet.”
Preston had an important reminder for those seeking to run in next year’s municipal election.
“It will be up to candidates to assist. That is part of the role of candidates. Can we help you vote?
“The only complaints I heard in the last election are the lineups at the actual paper ballot stations. This is making it so you can vote from the comfort of your home.
“This is a move to a higher voter turnout,” suggested Preston, “not a lower. But it’s up to us on the ballot to help assist those who want to vote and to help them do that.”
Preston had an astute reminder for Snowbirds enjoying the sun and surf in Florida. Voting is as simple as picking up your phone, as long as you have your personal ID code.
Konefal assured council funds have been included in the election budget for the use of kiosks with tablets so that voters can just key in their vote instead of marking a ballot.
“We would have kiosks at various locations,” pointed out Konefal, “and provide any assistance for those individuals who do not have access to a telephone, computer or tablet.”
Ideally, Konefal is looking at various locations on different days with information sent out to all eligible voters as to the mobile kiosk schedule.
Not unlike the health unit updating residents on locations of mobile vaccination clinics throughout the region.
Konefal reminded members, in effect, the advance polling affords time to work out any wrinkles in the system before any crush of voters on election day.
After all, with this system, there is absolutely no reason individuals have to put off voting until election day itself.
A bylaw dealing with the new electronic voting procedure will come before council early in the new year.
TIPPING THE HEALTHCARE SYSTEM
With a serious uptick in the number of new daily COVID-19 cases and subsequent hospitalizations this month in the Southwestern Public Health region, there is a distinct possibility new capacity restrictions may be announced in the coming week.
To get a clear picture of the impact on the hospital and the staff, we had a very candid discussion with St. Thomas Elgin Hospital president and CEO Karen Davies this week.
She made it clear the capacity issue was a factor long before the pandemic.
She opened with, “I wish I could say it is better, but it has not improved.”
As announced a week ago, the ICU at the hospital is at capacity, and not just because of COVID-19 patients. The unit deals with heart attacks and strokes, victims of serious road accidents and so many other medical situations.
Something the many medical experts on Facebook either don’t or can’t fathom.
“And that is part of our challenge,” admitted Davies. “We have eight Level 3 ICU beds and six of them are with COVID patients right now.
“So, you can see how that limits your ability to be a hospital for the community.”
There are also six Level 2 beds in ICU.
She explained, COVID patients who end up in ICU are very resource-intensive and do have a long length of stay.
Early in the week, at least two ICU patients had to be transferred to London hospitals to ease the crunch.
“Hospitals have been struggling with occupancy long ahead of COVID. The communities have outgrown what the hospitals were built to provide.”
But remember, cautioned Davies, “our community partners like London Health Sciences are very stretched in terms of their capacity as well.
“So, it becomes a much larger problem than just St. Thomas and London helping us. Because London can only help so much, as well.”
Davies cut to the chase.
“Hospitals have been struggling with occupancy long ahead of COVID. The communities have outgrown what the hospitals were built to provide.
“Hospitals were struggling with capacity, particularly in winter months.
“But we have a physical capacity issue here, now. We don’t have empty wings where we can just go and put more beds, even if we had nurses and beds at our disposal. We are physically maxed out on this campus.”
“So, to some of the negative comments I did see around ‘Well 13 patients, how can that push you up?’
“When you are already struggling with occupancy and you take 13 very sick patients, it is enough that can tip the system.”
A point to note for all the doubters out there who insist, through their extensive medical experience, that the coronavirus is nothing more than the flu, it can result in extremely sick patients who require a lengthy, resource-intensive hospital stay.
Not to mention the long-haulers who require months to fully recover.
Davies notes, “Throughout this COVID time we did add, with ministry support, 22 more beds.
“But we have a physical capacity issue here, now. We don’t have empty wings where we can just go and put more beds, even if we had nurses and beds at our disposal.
“We are physically maxed out on this campus.”
“It’s become such a divisive issue about the vaccination status and there are lots of layers of complexity as to what is impacting people these days.”
Beds and physical space are only one part of the equation. How is the staff holding up in this marathon?
“They are fatigued, for sure. I worry a lot about burnout. And some of the things going on in the media are not helpful.
“Some of the negative comments are not helpful and I wish I could shield them from them, but I can’t.
“We want to remain a comfortable and safe place for all of our staff and physicians to feel they can come and go from.
“We have put a lot of additional resources in place (for staff). Everything from break room space with snacks to mental health supports with quick access for all of our employees, physicians and their families as well.
“Lots of close attention to the well-being of everyone in the building. The work that our healthcare workers do is difficult at the best of times and it’s done nothing but escalate.
“It’s become such a divisive issue about the vaccination status and there are lots of layers of complexity as to what is impacting people these days.”
Perhaps the illustration below sums it up best.
We touched on this item last week and, as expected, council was unanimous in approving a motion to declare the land at 14-16 Queen Street as surplus to needs.
The parcel of land in question is to be the future home of Phase 2 of the city’s social services and housing campus that will contain 45 affordable/supportive housing units and, eventually, a new fire substation.
At the request of Coun. Steve Wookey, city manager Wendell Graves gave a concise explanation of what the transfer of land to Indwell signifies.
“As you know, this has been a fairly lengthy planning horizon process with our friends at Indwell, relative to the 45 units of affordable and supportive housing on Queen Street, plus the fire hall.
“This is a housekeeping point in the process. The project will be financed and built by Indwell and it will be their building.
“And our contribution toward that will be the land as a partnership and, in return for that, we will have a multi-decade lease for the actual firehall.
“So, this is just putting the surplus land process in play so that we can make that transfer happen as a result of this (property) survey being nearly completed to actually define this piece of property.”
If you remember, there were three homes at the east end of the property fronting on Queen Street that were demolished to make way for Phase 2.
Drive by today and there is a construction trailer now on-site with fencing in place, suggesting an imminent start.
WHEN IS A GOOD TIME TO PARK?
A bit of confusion at Monday’s council meeting regarding overnight parking restrictions for the winter months which came into effect Nov. 15.
At that time the on-street parking restriction covered the period 3 to 5 a.m., which is soon to be extended to 2 to 6 a.m. and would cover the period Nov. 15 to March 15.
Mayor Preston voiced the obvious question, “Would that require a very large advertising piece to let people know we’ve changed that bylaw?”
The immediate response from Justin Lawrence, director of engineering is a gem.
“Some public relations would be a good idea, for sure.”
Because myFM began running the story a week ago of the 3 to 5 a.m. restriction as per a city release.
And the city hall website still refers to those hours.
“We propose taking this off their plate and let bylaw officers do it. We figured out a way to have them do it without adding much money by just changing the shifts. The police are happy with that and it seems like a good solution.”
It gets better. Because the city is changing the fine structure, the new bylaw will require approval by the Ministry of the Attorney General.
“And that process normally takes three or four months,” added Lawrence. “So this is most likely for next year.”
Talk about attempting to change the rules mid-game.
Another interesting aspect. In the past city police were expected to enforce the bylaw.
The type of enforcement the police service would rather not be involved in given the increasing number of serious service calls.
Lawrence advised, “We propose taking this off their plate and let bylaw officers do it. We figured out a way to have them do it without adding much money by just changing the shifts.
“The police are happy with that and it seems like a good solution.”
No word from Lawrence on the response from bylaw officers.
Do you get the feeling this new overnight parking bylaw was worked out on the back of a napkin over lunch?
THE ECHO CHAMBER
In response to our item last week with St. Thomas Deputy Police Chief Marc Roskamp outlining the Student Resource Officer program in St. Thomas high schools, Laura Anne Tweeted her recollection.
“I still remember the officer we had in my Edmonton high school, he was friendly and open, involved in school teams and events. Please don’t paint all schools and all officers with one brush!”
Lonnie McIntyre also Tweeted with a favourable response.
“By the police being at the schools, they have the ability to scan the premises and observe any problem that may need nipping in the bud.”
Lonnie followed that up with this Tweet on the value of the SRO program.
“This is probably one of the most important assignments that the St. Thomas Police can execute, as there are so many reasons to keep this in place. It keeps our law enforcement in social graces with the children, the police presence alone helps the outlook of children.”
Susan Gerry posted on Facebook her involvement with the SRO program.
“My kid had a problem situation that caught the attention of many police officers. However, when the SRO assigned to my son’s high school saw the group that was in the car, was instrumental in keeping the situation calm and in perspective with his fellow officers. So these relationships between police and school must continue.”
Susan followed that with a second Facebook post.
“SROs should be continued. Students and the police get to know each other, and those triggered may become trusting as more interaction over the years may increase trust. Police forces employ obvious ethnic races and beliefs and all. It is so hard to make a statement without offending a person with today’s wokeness.”
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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.