Wool­wich still as­sess­ing the im­pact of elec­tronic vot­ing

Lack of races rather than tech­nol­ogy seen as rea­son for lower turnout

The Woolwich Observer - - FRONT PAGE - STEVE KAN­NON

A LOWER VOTER TURNOUT for last month’s Wool­wich elec­tion had more to do with lim­ited vot­ing op­tions than with a shift to elec­tronic vot­ing, sug­gests town­ship staff re­spon­si­ble for run­ning the elec­tion.

Voter turnout dropped to 31.3 per cent this down, down from 37 per cent in 2014 and 36 per cent in 2010. That num­ber is higher, how­ever, than 27 per cent seen in 2006 and 23 per cent in 2003.

That the mayor’s po­si­tion and both Ward 3 seats were filled by ac­cla­ma­tion likely caused a drop, sug­gested Jeff Smith, the town­ship’s deputy clerk, to coun­cil­lors meet­ing Tues­day night.

Though Wool­wich’s first foray into elec­tronic vot­ing was marred by the sys­tem bog­ging down on elec­tion day, Oc­to­ber 22, staff de­ter­mined the de­lay and sub­se­quent de­ci­sion to ex­tend vot­ing by 24 hours had lit­tle im­pact on the out­come.

“Elec­tion re­search sug­gests nei­ther the in­ter­net and tele­phone vot­ing method nor the ex­ten­sion of the vot­ing pe­riod had a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on voter turnout,” he said in a re­port. “One of the big­gest driv­ers of voter turnout is an elec­torate who is en­gaged with the is­sues and with the can­di­dates. In the 2014 mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion, Wool­wich Town­ship had 15 can­di­dates run­ning and only one ac­cla­ma­tion, as well as two sig­nif­i­cant pub­lic is­sues. Staff do not be­lieve it is sur­pris­ing to see a de­crease in voter

turnout this elec­tion as there were fewer can­di­dates, and the of­fice of the mayor and both Ward 3 coun­cil­lors were ac­claimed.”

The shift to on­line and tele­phone vot­ing in place of pa­per bal­lots saw no change in voter de­mo­graph­ics, how­ever, de­spite the in­tu­itive idea that younger peo­ple tend to be more tech-friendly, Smith noted.

Vot­ers be­tween 60-74 years old had the high­est turnout at 50.7 per cent, fol­lowed closely by vot­ers aged 75-89. Turnout was low­est among vot­ers aged 18-29 with only 13.7 per cent.

“There was no uptick in youth vot­ing.”

Though Smith’s re­port touched on the tech­ni­cal prob­lems ex­pe­ri­ence by the elec­tronic vot­ing sys­tem, it was not par­tic­u­larly crit­i­cal. Like­wise, coun­cil­lors made very few com­ments.

Smith noted the town­ship ex­pects to have some­one from Do­min­ion Vot­ing Sys­tems ad­dress coun­cil, likely in Jan­uary. Prepa­ra­tions for the 2022 elec­tion, in­clud­ing a de­ci­sion on whether to stick with elec­tronic vot­ing or re­vert to pa­per bal­lots, aren’t likely to be on the agenda for a cou­ple of years, he said.

Though feed­back on the tele­phone vot­ing op­tion was largely neg­a­tive, for on­line vot­ing, the re­sponses were 81 per cent favourable, Smith added.

Still, com­ments about con­ve­nience aside, some de­tailed cri­tiques of on­line vot­ing and its reper­cus­sions were re­ceived. Among them, a long list of con­cerns by lo­cal res­i­dent Dr. Mark Yaniszewksi, a po­lit­i­cal science lec­turer who pre­vi­ously ad­vised against elec­tronic vot­ing when coun­cil was de­lib­er­at­ing whether or not to move away from pa­per bal­lots.

Ad­dress­ing coun­cil­lors last week, he called on them to re­con­sider the elec­tronic vot­ing ex­per­i­ment, cit­ing a host of se­cu­rity con­cerns. He noted the com­puter slow­down may have dis­cour­aged some peo­ple from vot­ing and, more trou­bling, in­di­cated the trou­ble with a vot­ing sys­tem that of­fers no pa­per trail.

“It does bring the elec­toral sys­tem into dis­re­pute,” he said of the tech­ni­cal fail­ures, adding there may have been other prob­lems that went un­no­ticed or un­re­ported. “How can we have con­fi­dence that noth­ing else went wrong?”

Yaniszewksi also de­cried the lack of an op­tion to de­cline one’s bal­lot, a pop­u­lar op­tion for those want­ing to make a state­ment or who are sim­ply un­happy with the choices of­fered. He noted that in the 2014 On­tario elec­tion, for in­stance, some 32,000 peo­ple de­clined their bal­lots.

“None of that was pos­si­ble the way things were set up,” he said of the town­ship’s on­line vot­ing sys­tem.

Look­ing at other elec­tion-re­lated con­cerns, Coun. Mark Bau­man pointed out some is­sues with the mu­nic­i­pal vot­ers list, which is com­piled by the Mu­nic­i­pal Prop­erty As­sess­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (MPAC), the agency re­spon­si­ble for tax as­sess­ments. He noted, for ex­am­ple, that his par­ents and most of the oth­ers who live in their St. Ja­cobs build­ing didn’t re­ceive vot­ing cards.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing some is­sues with the MPAC lists, Smith said there have been some talks with the prov­ince about us­ing its vot­ers list, which is a sep­a­rate list, while the fed­eral list is an­other unique un­der­tak­ing to that level of gov­ern­ment.

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