Kawartha Lakes council unanimously recommended at their Jan. 12 committee of the whole meeting that the city permanently adopt the combination of internet and telephone voting for future municipal elections that was first experimented with in 2018.
City clerk Cathy Ritchie asked that the internet/telephone vote be kept for the upcoming Oct. 24, 2022 city-wide election.
“We need council’s approval to enable staff to begin planning,” Ritchie began.
In 2018, 178 of 417 municipalities in Ontario utilized on-line/telephone voting, 84 more than in 2014. The use of mail-in ballots dropped almost 46 per cent across the province from 2014 to 2018.
Ritchie said the benefits of on-line voting are many and advantages include: improved voter confidence in the outcome, improved accessibility for voters with mobility issues, enhanced voter privacy, modest increases in voter turnout, fewer ballot errors and fewer spoiled ballots.
She said the extended 10-day voting period is good for democracy, the internet/telephone option reduces the staff necessary to run an election, and the chances for error are much higher in a manual count.
In her argument against a return to paper ballots, Ritchie said that elections where voters have to travel to vote are unduly impacted by weather and public health conditions, like trying to vote safely during an extended pandemic.
Statistics were presented showing that the 2014 election featuring paper ballots cost $254,000 to run, while the internet telephone election of 2018 cost $204,000 to administer.
The clerk’s report clearly laid out that the structures put in place for voting in 2018 will be replicated in 2022, and voters should expect to see the following: a 10 day window will be provided for voting, those requiring technology or assistance can find it available at local libraries, an elections hotline will be set up to answer voters’ questions before the vote is taken.
Staff will personally attend the 14 long-term care and retirement facilities, setting up kiosks so residents living in those facilities will be able to exercise their democratic rights.
The report also states that internet/telephone elections will be the best way for seasonal residents to cast their ballots without travelling. In 2018, only 20 per cent of summer residents exercised their voting rights in Kawartha Lakes. Taxpayers may cast ballots where both their winter and summer residences are located.
Councilor Doug Elmslie, while supporting the recommendations, is concerned about the accuracy of the voters’ list which is constructed by data provided by MPAC.
“There were a great many problems with the list in 2018,” Elmslie said. “Where will information for the 2022 list come from?”
Ritchie told the councilor that unfortunately MPAC will again be supplying the voter information for 2022, but from that point on Elections Ontario would be collating the voters’ rolls.
“The Clerk’s office has already started working on improving the MPAC list,” Ritchie shared, “and we are trying to create the best list possible.”
Councilor Emmett Yeo wondered if the city, in their tendering process, can make sure they find a company whose system will not be overwhelmed by last minute voters as happened in 2018.
The clerk responded that the issue was not with the actual vendor, but with broadband width which could not handle the after dinner rush of votes being tabulated and processed on time.
Councilor Andrew Veale wondered if paper ballots could be available the day of the election at certain locations in case the technology is once again found lacking.
“We will have a business continuity plan in place,” Ritchie promised, “because it was very disheartening when the system went down because of a lack of broadband width.”
Councilor Ron Ashmore wanted to drill down on the nuts and bolts of the system the city is putting to tender. He first wondered how rigorously the system is going to be tested before the vote and who will be doing the testing?
Ritchie assured the councillor the system will be stress tested multiple times, and a third party firm used by Peterborough County will be responsible for ensuring data security.
Ashmore then wondered if on weekends libraries could stay open longer. This would give residents without computers the opportunity to vote. Ritchie suggested that is an accommodation that can be provided.
Finally, Ashmore wondered if recognized scrutineers will be allowed into the room where the final votes are tabulated. Apparently, in 2018 that did not occur.
Ritchie promised scrutineers will be present in 2022.