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City council rejects online, phone voting in 'embarrassing' decision

Coun. David Campbell 'very disappointed' with 5-4 decision to stick with status quo
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Despite a recommendation from staff — and encouragement from the City of Orillia’s former IT manager — council voted Monday against implementing internet and telephone voting for next year’s municipal election.

Council committee voted the same way in August, but decided to wait until Monday’s council meeting for a ratification vote to allow time for public feedback on different voting methods.

In a letter included on Monday’s agenda, former city IT manager Dan Kehoe said he was “completely comfortable with the option to recommend internet/telephone as the sole method of voting for the 2022 municipal election.”

“Having been involved in the administration side of municipal elections for a number of years I can clearly see the benefits of increased access by voters,” he wrote. “It is true that no method of voting is without some element of security risk. For their part, electronic voting systems have matured a great deal in recent years with security being one of the most important components.”

Coun. David Campbell, who also has a background in IT, seemed to know how Monday’s vote would play out before it occurred, and he was not happy.

“I’m very disappointed that the majority of council will not support some form of increased access to voting for the citizens of Orillia,” he said.

Low voter turnout seems to be accepted as the norm, Campbell added.

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” he said. “Here, we had an opportunity to perhaps change that, to make it easier for people to vote, but we chose not to.”

Many people still won’t be comfortable voting in person next fall, he noted.

“Again, there was a solution for those people, but we chose not to help,” he said.

Orillia could be the only municipality in Simcoe County that won’t be offering alternative voting methods next year, Campbell said, calling it “embarrassing.”

“We call ourselves a progressive city. We have a sign behind Mayor (Steve) Clarke that indicates that. Yet, we have an opportunity to prove that we are, and we choose not to,” he said. “I am very disappointed today.”

As he did during last month’s council committee meeting, Coun. Jay Fallis sounded the alarm about security risks associated with internet voting.

He cited articles about troubles with a voting app in the United States and an 11-year-old hacker compromising an online voting system in that country.

“I really think the second you dip your toe into internet voting, you’re going down a path that could potentially lead to a lot of problems,” Fallis said.

Coun. Ted Emond didn’t share those concerns.

“I don’t have the same paranoia over change that my young colleague does with respect to the system,” he said.

Emond voted in the federal election Monday and said there was a long lineup of people, many of whom had walkers or canes. He used that as an example of why alternative methods would be beneficial.

Coun. Mason Ainsworth reiterated his support for the status quo, noting online voting is not used in federal and provincial elections because of security concerns.

“If it was secure, we’d be using it today,” he said.

Council voted against alternative voting methods in a 5-4 decision. Ainsworth, Fallis and councillors Pat Hehn, Ralph Cipolla and Tim Lauer objected to online and telephone voting, while Emond, Campbell, Clarke and Coun. Rob Kloostra supported it.

That issue was the only item on the agenda Ainsworth took part in.

He told OrilliaMatters he raised concerns with city staff a few weeks ago, objecting to holding a council meeting on election day.

If it weren’t for the voting methods being on the agenda, Ainsworth said, he wouldn’t have taken part in the meeting at all. However, he figured it would be a 5-4 result and, if he hadn’t voted, the motion would have been defeated.

Asked why he chose to take part only during that discussion and vote, he said it was “a personal choice.”

“I’ve been extremely busy all day working on the federal election,” he said.

He clarified that he had been campaigning for Simcoe North Conservative candidate Adam Chambers.

Asked about public perception of his decision to campaign for a federal candidate rather than participate in a city council meeting, he said, “people are entitled to their opinions” and he encouraged anyone with concerns to contact him.

Ainsworth also suggested a “discussion” take place about making election day a holiday in Canada.