Sim­plify and im­prove im­por­tant civic vot­ing t

Shoreline Beacon - - Opinion -

his month on­tario saw the big­gest leap into tech­nol­ogy for mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions ever at­tempted.

From ranked bal­lots in the city of lon­don to mail-in bal­lots in a num­ber of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, vot­ing has changed, likely for­ever.

tele­phone and in­ter­net vot­ing might well be the wave of the fu­ture, but these meth­ods didn’t ex­actly work as planned this year.

The tele­phone and in­ter­net ex­per­i­ment hit a ma­jor glitch, when de­mand to vote late on elec­tion day vastly ex­ceeded the abil­ity of the tech­nol­ogy to ac­cept those votes.

The win­dow for bal­lot­ing was ex­tended by 24 hours to en­sure ev­ery­one had a chance to have their votes counted.

This re­ally made elec­tion night an­ti­cli­mac­tic since even the vote tal­ly­ing was a bit of a fiz­zle.

al­though such a 24-hour de­lay is un­prece­dented, this glitch doesn’t ap­pear to have started much of a hue and cry against the new vot­ing sys­tem.

Per­haps vot­ers are will­ing to give the new meth­ods a chance, or are sim­ply too ap­a­thetic to be both­ered about the whole mess.

voter turnout would in­di­cate the lat­ter is at least par­tially a fac­tor. in mu­nic­i­pal­ity af­ter mu­nic­i­pal­ity, voter turnout was down from pre­vi­ous years and be­low ex­pec­ta­tions.

in gen­eral, low turnout is at­trib­uted to dis­il­lu­sion­ment, in­dif­fer­ence, or a sense of fu­til­ity (the per­cep­tion that one’s vote won’t make any dif­fer­ence).

ac­cord­ing to Stan­ford univer­sity po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists adam Bon­ica and michael mcFaul, there is a con­sen­sus among po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists that “democ­ra­cies per­form bet­ter when more peo­ple vote.”

dr. San­jay Jeram, a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Si­mon Fraser univer­sity, re­cently told a re­porter that some of the ex­per­i­ments that have been run in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence point to a lack of un­der­stand­ing among vot­ers as to what city gov­ern­ments do and their im­pact on the vot­ers’ bot­tom lines.

“most peo­ple, when asked, can’t re­ally iden­tify the di­vi­sion of power, es­pe­cially be­tween cities and prov­inces.”

dr. Peter Smith, also a pro­fes­sor at SFu said, “Some peo­ple get a bit over­whelmed.”

When vot­ing for a mem­ber of Par­lia­ment or the leg­is­la­ture, you can find more in­for­ma­tion with less ef­fort.

in one ex­am­ple from British columbia, last fed­eral elec­tion Sur­rey vot­ers elected five mPs out of 25 can­di­dates.

in this month’s mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions, the same vot­ers were tasked with elect­ing one mayor out of eight can­di­dates, eight coun­cil­lors out of 48 can­di­dates, and six school trustees out of 30 can­di­dates.

a sim­i­lar heav­ier weight­ing of num­bers is not un­com­mon in lo­cal elec­tions across the coun­try.

de­clin­ing voter turnout is not unique to on­tario, or even to canada. here’s the en­cy­clo­pe­dia: “af­ter in­creas­ing for many decades, there has been a trend of de­creas­ing voter turnout in most es­tab­lished democ­ra­cies since the 1980s.”

it’s im­pos­si­ble to know at this junc­ture how much new vot­ing meth­ods might have dis­cour­aged voter turnout. it’s a given that some vot­ers wouldn’t take that new step.

in the­ory the new meth­ods should make it eas­ier to vote and there­fore im­prove turnout num­bers.

how­ever, if vot­ers are frus­trated try­ing to ex­er­cise their fran­chise on the in­ter­net, they might throw up their hands in frus­tra­tion.

ob­vi­ously that would be an un­in­tended con­se­quence of try­ing to bring our elec­tions into the 21st cen­tury.

how­ever, vot­ing is no ex­cep­tion in a world that gets in­creas­ingly more com­pli­cated. at this stage it would be un­wise to re­treat from new vot­ing sys­tems.

in­stead, we must find ways to sim­plify and im­prove mod­ern meth­ods to make vot­ing a more im­por­tant part of civic life.

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