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City councillors shoot down online, phone voting over safety concerns

'I don't have enough confidence in the system,' councillor says; public has until Sept. 20 to provide feedback
online voting

Council has rejected a staff recommendation that the city move to online and telephone voting for the 2022 municipal election.

Staff suggested the city do away with in-person voting on paper ballots, writing in a report it is “considered to be the most restrictive voting option as voting is fixed to polling locations during set hours that often do not meet the needs of many voters and is not as accessible as other methods.”

It also “provides the least flexibility should COVID-19 continue to pose public health concerns into 2022,” staff added.

Option 2 presented by staff was a hybrid model, making internet and telephone voting available while also allowing, on election day only, in-person voting with paper ballots.

During Monday's council committee meeting, Coun. Jay Fallis cautioned against any form of telephone and online voting. He said there have been “countless examples of problems that have occurred” with those methods.

He cited an article that noted residents of 48 municipalities had issues with service disruption in the 2018 election.

“A simple error can lead to a very significant change in a result,” Fallis said.

There are also concerns about hacking and a “general lack of transparency” with online and telephone voting, he added.

“Despite the ever-emerging ability to do things online, many voting experts adamantly believe that (the paper ballot) is the best way to hold an election in most scenarios,” he said.

The disruptions Fallis noted were faced by other municipalities in 2018 were, for the most part, an issue of bandwidth, said Coun. David Campbell, who referred to it as “a growing pain.”

The most important objective, he added, is to make sure as many people as possible have a means to vote.

“Providing this convenience would really help that, and I think that’s a good thing for democracy in the city,” Campbell said.

However, he was uncomfortable casting a vote on the matter at all, saying it “seems like a complete conflict” for a sitting council to determine voting methods for the next election. It should be up to the clerk’s department, he added, but acknowledged that simply isn’t the case.

Safety concerns were top of mind for Coun. Tim Lauer, too, who supported the status quo.

“Cybersecurity is the biggest growing sport in the new world. Municipalities are being hacked and held for ransom quite regularly, and successfully,” he said.

“Currently, I don't have enough confidence in the system.”

Adding to the chorus of opposition to online and telephone voting was Coun. Mason Ainsworth, who said electors “push a button and hope” their votes are registered as they intended.

He also dismissed the notion that a particular voting method is a determining factor as to whether people decide to vote. He feels that depends on the issues and the candidates.

Turnout will likely be greater, he said, “if people in the community are very excited or, on the other side, are upset about something.”

The public will get to have its say. The city will be seeking feedback on voting methods prior to Monday’s decision coming back to council for possible ratification on Sept. 20. Keep an eye on the city's website and social media channels for more information.