Holding school board elections across Prince Edward Island could cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, P.E.I. MLAs were told on Tuesday.
Tim Garrity, P.E.I.'s chief electoral officer, appeared before a legislative standing committee examining the process of restoring elected school boards on the Island.
Last December, the province mandated the Department of Education to reinstate elected school boards.
Garrity says combining the school board elections with provincial elections, one of the options being considered by Elections P.E.I., may not increase voter participation, which has traditionally been low for school board elections on the Island.
According to Elections P.E.I., voter turnout was less than three per cent at the now defunct Eastern School Board between 1996 and 2008.
Low voter turnout
During the same period, voter turnout at the former Western School Board was even lower, at less than one per cent.
"It's not a requirement that you have to vote and there could be people that present to vote knowing that they are voting for their MLA or the party of their choice whatever the case is, they're told at the time you can vote for the English and or the French school boards and they're like … I'm not interested in that," Garrity told the committee.
The schools have been administered by various appointed bodies since the merger of the two school boards in 2012.
Garrity said holding school board elections in conjunction with a provincial election would cost about $100,000.
The biggest challenge, Garrity told MLAs, is the school zones do not match existing provincial districts.
Elections P.E.I. will need to hire bilingual election workers to accommodate the French Language School Board, which Garrity said can be hard to find.
He also raised concerns about how many ballots would need to be printed — more than 125,000 Islanders would be eligible to vote.
[Online voting] is really gaining in popularity at the smaller electoral events. — Tim Garrity, Elections P.E.I.
But in the 2018 French Language School Board elections, only 434 people voted.
Garrity said holding standalone elections, not in conjunction with a provincial election, would be even more expensive at about $300,000 to $400,000.
The majority of those costs would be for hiring poll workers across the province.
Online voting would cost about $200,000, explained Garrity.
"[Online voting] is really gaining in popularity at the smaller electoral events," said Garrity.
"The scale of the election really kind of helps mitigate the risk, if you are doing a school board election there is probably not as much risk as if you're doing the full federal election or the U.S. election."
Garrity said the cheapest option may be mail-in voting, which would be about $30,000.
"So if cost plays a factor, that might be an option."
Garrity said planning must get underway soon to be ready for the next school board elections, which are scheduled for May 2022.
"Democracy comes at a price," said Garrity.
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