West Nipissing council voted against a proposal to initiate electronic voting options for the next municipal election.
It was close, as four councillors—Leo Mallette, Dan Roveda, Chris Fisher, and Roland Larabie—were all in favour of adopting electronic voting. However, their votes were not enough, and the decision was made to maintain the status-quo.
Voting by mail remains, a method used by the municipality since 2003. The method has been well-adopted by area voters, and the municipal clerk, Melanie Ducharme, mentioned in her report to council that voting by mail enables “a wide-spread and diverse population to participate in the municipal election.”
Indeed, mailing in your vote is for many rural residents viewed as a convenience, and West Nipissing’s 2018 election had a voter turn-out “slightly higher” than 58 per cent.
“This far exceeded the previous two elections” Ducharme noted.
This method also comes in handy during global pandemics although it is a little costlier than running a traditional poll election.
It has been a while since the municipality held a poll-based election, so to estimate the cost today, Ducharme made some calculations using numbers from the City of North Bay.
She explained that North Bay is budgeting around $225,000 for the next election, which is about $4.41 per elector.
There are 12,500 voters in West Nipissing, which would come to about $56,000 to host a paper and poll election, Ducharme noted.
Compare that with the estimated $58,000 for the next mail-in election. The 2018 election cost $61,618, Ducharme noted.
Postage costs accounted for $15,000 of that, she added.
The process of mail-in voting is also “labour intensive and it is very wasteful,” said Ducharme, mentioning the waste comes from people who throw away their ballots rather then return them with their vote.
Despite that, the method has proven “very successful for a number of years.”
Although successful, Ducharme suggested in her report that council move the municipality to electronic options, that would include on-line voting and voting by telephone.
“My recommendation is that we, like many municipalities, move to an electronic platform for elections,” she said.
“It’s reliable, it’s proven. It’s significantly less expensive, and I think that the last couple of years have shown all of us that we can do things electronically that we haven’t in the past.”
She estimated that electronic voting would be “about $25,000 cheaper” than mail in ballots and allow more convenient access for residents.
As some lack access to internet and phones, those residents would still be able to cast their vote at the municipal office.
Of the 444 municipalities in Ontario, in 2018, 194 of those used internet and telephone voting. Paper ballots? Only 108 municipalities relied solely on in-person voting with paper ballots.
Ducharme predicts more municipalities will adopt electronic voting in the 2022 election.
Close to 27 per cent of municipalities rely on voting by mail, she added.
“I would prefer mail-in,” mentioned councillor Yvon Duhaime, “and the status quo that we’ve been doing in the past.”
Councillor Fisher, in favour of electronic voting, mentioned “we have a lot of residents that have properties, but are not permanent, who are packed up and gone by October, and it gives them the opportunity to vote.”
“One thing you want to do in a democracy is increase the number of voters,” he added, “and that will make it much simpler for people to vote, and we should see an uptick in the numbers.”
“Not everyone has the same level of coverage with the technology,” Mayor Joanne Savage cautioned, and councillor Denise Senecal emphasized that many of the voters he talked with want to bring back in-person voting as the primary option.
He also acknowledged the benefits of mail-in voting, “and I think it was successful,” and “we should stick to voting by mail.”
And they will. West Nipissing’s next election falls on Monday, October 24, 2022. Residents can expect to receive their ballots in the mail well in advance.
David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BayToday.ca