SBP council says ‘no’ to online voting
In a move that surprised some of its own members, the Town of South Bruce Peninsula council voted to stay with the status quo voting method of first-past-thepost using mail-in ballots in the upcoming 2018 municipal election.
At its Feb. 7 council meeting, with Deputy Mayor Jay Kirkland absent, Councillors Craig Gammie and Ana Vukovic voted against adopting online and telephone ballots, catching Mayor Janice Jackson and Councillor Matt Jackson off guard.
On Jan. 17, in a recorded vote, Mayor Janice Jackson and Councillors Craig Gammie and Matt Jackson voted to proceed with internet/telephone voting and Deputy Mayor Jay Kirkland and Councillor Ana Vukovic voted against. Staff was directed to provide a report – including the necessary bylaw to enable council to adopt the new voting methods – at a future council meeting.
When the issue came back to council at its Feb. 7 meeting, the new electoral method was quashed in lieu of the status quo.
Council moved on to discuss two more agenda items, after which Mayor Jackson said she wanted to revisit the voting method, saying Counc. Gammie had reversed his position and citing an informal email survey she had taken to ascertain the preferences of SBP ratepayers.
Counc. Gammie called a point of order saying once the vote had been taken, council could not go back to the topic.
Mayor Jackson proceeded, with several interruptions from Counc. Gammie.
Mayor Jackson said she had emailed 434 constituents to find out their voting method preferences.
“I owe it to the people to tell them what 434 constituents responded – only 25 said they preferred to stay with the mail-in ballot,” Jackson said.
Jackson added she had received a comment that the people she had emailed obviously had internet, but she said the new voting option included telephone ballots as well.
“I just wanted to let you know that only six per cent of all the people that I polled, six per cent wanted to remain with a mail-in ballot. I think that’s a pretty good polling of how the people feel.”
Gammie said, “Your poll doesn’t meet any of the criteria of a poll. It’s not a good sample, it’s not random. There are all kinds of problems with it.”
He added the sample was neither relevant nor valid.
After this discussion, Mayor Jackson called for a second vote on the issue, this time to be recorded. The results were the same, with Councillors Gammie and Vukovic voting to remain with mail-in ballots.
In an interview after the meeting, Counc. Gammie said, “I did not change my perspective on this.”
Gammie said he had voted Jan. 17 for a staff report to be brought forward, but that he had wanted to get more feedback from people, which he had done.
He said a lot of people – he did not specify with whom or how many he had spoken with – had told him that they or people they knew would not vote if the new system were adopted.
Gammie said people without computers or who were averse to telephone banking, “generally older, but not necessarily older,” would not vote if the new system was adopted.
“And that turned it for me,” he said, adding, “We want as full a participation as we can get.”
In an interview after the Feb. 7 meeting, Counc. Jackson said, “I thought we were moving in a direction to modernize our voting system. It’s the direction that the vast majority of municipalities within the county have moved in.”
Jackson called online voting “the way of the future.”
He said he felt online/telephone voting would make voting more accessible to people.
“Quite frankly I’m disappointed because I think by moving in the direction I thought we were going – online and telephone voting – we probably would have seen an increase in voter turnout,” he said.
At press time, six Bruce County communities – including the neighbouring Muncipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula – have chosen internet/telephone voting for their municipalities.
The changes in voting methods – including a new option to adopt ranked ballot elections – were initiated by the Municipal Elections Act, Bill 181, Municipal Elections Modernization Act and Bill 68, Modernizing Ontario’s Municipal Legislation Act, 2016.