Calgarians will only be able to vote from their designated polling stations during advance voting in the upcoming municipal election — a move city council will ask Elections Calgary to reconsider.
In the 2017 municipal election, voters could cast their ballot at any advance voting station in the city in the run-up to election day.
But this year, city returning officer Kate Martin told council that won't be happening.
"There will be advance votes … however, the advance vote 'vote anywhere' model has not been planned," she said.
Martin said there was no single reason for the decision, and factors included following COVID-19 safety protocols, accessibility concerns, ensuring an adequate supply of ballots, and the fact that many people voted in their own wards during the last election.
Mayor 'extremely disappointed'
Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he had previously been assured the 'vote anywhere' model would continue and said he strongly disagrees with the decision.
"The problems you've highlighted are what I call PSMs — problems solved with money. And our democracy is worth the money, and ultimately I think this is a step backwards. I think it is going to hurt voter turnout and I am extremely disappointed that we're moving in this direction," he said during Monday evening's council meeting.
The city is legally prohibited from attempting to direct or influence the returning officer's actions, and establishing voting stations is the returning officer's duty, city administration said.
So, Coun. Jeff Davison brought forward a motion asking Elections Calgary to consider implementing vote anywhere advance polls, at a minimum of at city hall and on post-secondary campuses, for the upcoming municipal election.
That motion was approved 12-2.
Coun. Jeromy Farkas, who voted against the motion, said he felt the motion could interfere with the returning officer's ability to maintain her independence.
But Coun. Evan Woolley said it's vital to ensure all Calgarians can easily participate in the democratic process.
"[Low] turnout is not democracy," he said.
Voter turnout was 50.45 per cent in the 2017 general election, Martin said, which was up from the previous vote — but Martin said Elections Calgary does not set targets to increase turnout.
In 2014, city council set a goal of increasing voter turnout — something the mayor said he will revisit in a discussion with administration.
Martin added that this year's vote will have approximately 13 more voting stations than the previous election, and that it will have a longer advance voting period.
Calgarians head to the polls on Oct. 18.