Minden ditching paper ballots for next election 0
Minden Hills will use Internet and telephone voting rather than paper ballots for the 2014 municipal election.
Councillors heard a report on alternate voting methods from chief administrative officer Nancy Wright-Laking during their Sept. 12 committee-of-the-whole meeting.
Wright-Laking, who has run eight municipal elections during her career, recommended going with Internet and telephone voting because it means less work for staff, is ecologically friendly since it doesn’t require paper and is accessible since it can be done from anywhere.
“Many people said it was wonderful to do it in their pyjamas,” she told councillors.
As clerk for the City of Peterborough, Wright-Laking instituted Internet/telephone voting in the 2006 election.
According to the CAO, there were seven Ontario municipalities that used the technology in the 2006 election and 44 in the 2010 election.
“Many, many municipalities are going that way,” she said.
Despite some skepticism, Wright-Laking said “there is a high degree of security with Internet voting.”
The township will put out a tender for companies who conduct online voting and the CAO explained they use the same type of secure technology used in online banking, including PIN code.
The data is held by the company in a secure location outside the township office.
Digital safeguards and double-checking also mean that voters can’t unintentionally spoil their ballots.
However, ballots can still be intentionally spoiled, Wright-Laking said.
Once residents have voted, their names are automatically struck from the voters’ list.
The system also maintains anonymity.
“We have no ability to know how you voted,” Wright-Laking said, adding that audits could be done to ensure security. “[In Peterborough], we actually hired a firm and their objective was to hack.”
She said the hackers were not able to compromise the system.
Internet/telephone voting is also cost-effective, the CAO said, partially because it involves little staff time.
The cost of the 2010 election was $32,000, but a report from Wright-Laking indicated this figure was misleading since it did not take into account staff time.
“Staff were required to pick up the received ballots from the post office, separate them from the declaration and scan each declaration into the computer system,” the report reads.
Internet/telephone voting removes the need for this process.
Wright-Laking has been communicating with the county’s three other townships and said Dysart and Algonquin Highlands are also interested in using online voting in the next election.
This could save further costs by partnering on items such as the marketing and election advertising municipalities must conduct under the Elections Act, she said.
In case of technical problems or power outages, Wright-Laking said protocols would be put in place ahead of time to deal with such situations.
Voting terminals and telephones would also be stationed at the township office and the library for voters who require assistance.
Wright-Laking said Internet voting takes approximately one minute while voting by phone can take up to 10 minutes depending on the number of candidates, since voters must listen to their options.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Councillor Lisa Schell, although she was concerned that some of the township’s senior residents in particular may be leery of online and telephone voting.
Schell wondered if one traditional voting booth could be set up somewhere for such residents.
“I am reluctant to have an additional way of voting,” Wright-Laking said, adding this would entail printing ballots and having staff on hand when it would not be clear how many voters would use the method.
Councillor Jean Neville wondered what voter turnout had been like in Peterborough with the online method.
Wright-Laking said turnout for the 2010 election had been 48.5 per cent and explained that with Internet voting, results are available immediately following the end of the voting period.
In Minden Hills, voter turnout for the last election was 45 per cent, with the municipality using mail-in ballots.
That figure was up from 33.8 per cent in the 2006 election.
More seasonal residents than ever before voted in the 2010 Minden Hills election and there was a contentious race between former reeve Jim McMahon and Ward 2 councillor-cum-Reeve Barb Reid, with Reid taking McMahon down 2,693 votes to 2,381.
Council will set an online voting period for the election and will put out tenders for the company who will conduct it.
Wright-Laking expects total costs for the election to come in around $30,000.
The budget for the 2014 election is $40,000.
The next municipal election is Oct. 27, 2014.