Regina Leader-Post

Late reaction to pandemic has proven costly

Process needs to go ahead, says

- Signa A. Daum Shanks

Each of us is wondering about how we protect family ways, what to do to ensure financial stability, how to instil senses of community and normalcy. We likely wonder about our own voice, and whether that voice is heard.

And as more days pass, we will struggle with how our political leadership actually leads. But in Saskatchew­an in 2020, it is not only about how to interact with that leadership in general, but how we show that support in the form of voting. But how does the suffrage right interplay with physical distancing, peoples’ sudden economic hardships, and our most vulnerable having their conditions worsened based on circumstan­ces that are no fault of their own?

While we might lament voting even in non-pandemic times, numerous studies suggest that voting in times of strife is incredibly vital for our personal and social well-being. Moreover, it is the barometer elected officials especially need as they navigate difficult junctures and benefit from the electorate’s input in direct ways.

Still, what to do for provincial and municipal elections this year? It is important to propose that elections should have either a mandatory or optional mail-in ballot form.

What is “mail-in?” Well, it could be via a website. There are ways to ask for informatio­n about people online that are pretty watertight to ensure someone is who they say they are. Canada Revenue Agency and renewing licences with SGI are two of the examples we could look to for how to construct an online form.

But “mail-in” can also include that good old standby we rarely use now — an envelope that we stick in mailbox via Canada Post.

It’s important to admit the costs of this idea. Research shows that mail-in voting need some features to ensure the elections are fair. For example, websites need security systems, such as Canada Revenue Agency and SGI have devised. As for the physical mail-in, some other

By requesting the mail-in ballot include some contact informatio­n for potential mishaps, we can allow for some hiccups to be adjusted.

features help maintain fairness. First, the ballot needs prepaid postage. Second, even if in-person still happens as an option, the election “date” becomes a few days so that the “date sent” stamping on a mail-in is what counts rather than the date it is received. Third, especially the first time a mail-in system is used, it needs to have a mistake mechanism. Think about those times when you have voted and a scrutineer or electoral officer has told you to move a couple of steps back, or fold your ballot a different way, or use the writing tool provided. By simply requesting the mail-in ballot include some contact informatio­n for potential mishaps, we can allow for some hiccups to be adjusted in ways that provide equity, especially for voting for the first time, finding a disability making the process a little difficult or just plain nervous about the entire process like me when I got too close to the voter in front of me last election.

Finally, evaluating the election must be done by existing civil servants rather than relying on temporary workers alone. Simply put, we can’t count on people having the interest in coming out in public to vote or help with voting, so this is where civil servants’ efforts would change some as well.

But are these shortcomin­gs really that costly? If we had an election today, and our current system was used, what would the benefits truly be? Voting that has more people staying home, a process in person that would likely take more time, likely being short of individual­s to scrutineer and work at it? There are financial difference­s in how mail-ins happen, but they do not necessaril­y mean the ultimate cost is necessaril­y higher. And the benefit is that more of us have a chance to participat­e in impacting the political decisions today, we keep to a tradition that is part of democratic government­s, and we reinforce a sense of worth to our own understand­ings of community.

This fall’s electoral process might need to be different, but our right to participat­e cannot. Signa A. Daum Shanks is an associate professor at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University where she teaches Law and Economics. She is from Saskatoon.

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