Time to combine
By Chad Ingram
Published March 16, 2017
When municipal elections take place next year, the year will be 2018.
While it might seem logical that municipalities would offer an online voting option in 2018, it’s possible that Minden Hills may again be the only township in Haliburton County to do so.
Did I mention the year will be 2018? It’s time for local councils to get on board with online voting and offer multiple electoral options.
In 2014, during the last round of municipal elections, Minden Hills became a pioneer in the county, introducing the options of Internet and telephone voting, alongside traditional paper ballot.
While there was some skepticism at first, as there generally is with change of any kind, the process was a success. Seventy-four per cent of voters in that election used the Internet or telephone, versus 26 per cent who made their way to polling stations, with a number of the online and telephone voters in their 80s and 90s, according to a Minden Hills staff report.
Minden Hills council recently voted to use the combined method approach again for the 2018 election, the cost for which will be approximately $63,000.
Other councils, however, seem reluctant about putting more options on the table.
Last week, Algonquin Highlands council opted to stick with its traditional vote-by-mail method, with paper ballots mailed out to township residents.
Yes, it’s true that the Internet situation in Algonquin Highlands is not the best, with plenty of connectivity gaps still existent among the nooks and crannies of its rocky terrain. And yes, it’s true there are some residents who do not own computers or know how to use the Internet.
But if the township would offer the same buffet of voting options that Minden Hills does, those people could either grab their telephones to cast their votes, or take a scenic drive to a polling station.
In Dysart et al, there is some split amongst councillors on what voting options to offer. Sticking with voting by mail there will cost about $52,000, an Internet/telephone election about $42,000. A staff report indicated that combined methods could run an additional $25,000.
So, worst case scenario, the election would cost about $75,000.
But keep in mind Minden Hills, which has a similar population, is doing it for $63,000. Keep in mind that if all the townships used the combined method, they could get a deal on the service. Keep in mind that, even for the tiny townships of Haliburton County, a difference of $10,000 or $15,000 is a fairly negligible amount of money – “coffee money,” in the vernacular of former Algonquin Highlands reeve Eleanor Harrison.
Economic arguments bear little clout in this situation. How much money do councillors spend attending conferences each year?
Elections are the very foundation of democracy and townships should be making it as easy as possible for residents to vote in them. In a community where the majority of voters actually live in other communities, it just makes sense to offer an online option. In a community that is home to many seniors who don’t use the Internet, it just makes sense to have a paper option.
Providing multiple voting options is about being modern, progressive and accommodating to all residents.
It’s 2018. Well, it’s going to be.
Hopefully no one has to write this again in the year 2022.