An Oro-Medonte resident has filed two complaints with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario over township council’s decision against allowing internet and telephone voting in the upcoming municipal election.
Despite a staff report’s recommendation to proceed with telephone, in-person and remote internet voting in addition to paper ballot voting on request, in November 2021 council opted to go with in-person paper ballot voting and mail-in ballot voting on request.
The two complaints filed include discrimination on the grounds of age and disability — which argue the township failed to accommodate disabled residents through its voting methods — and that it perpetuated the view seniors would have too much difficulty using electronic voting methods as grounds for not providing them.
Although mail-in ballots will be made available to anyone who requests them, the November 2021 staff report noted “it will not be possible to host a polling station in each ward, as polling locations are required to be accessible and there are limited locations that currently meet the accessibility requirements.”
Resident Robert Young, who previously worked as an investigator with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, filed the complaints on behalf of a resident with a disability.
“As you can imagine, (there are) very many disabled persons within Oro-Medonte, of course, and some of them have mobility issues in terms of getting to a voting station,” Young told OrilliaMatters. “You also have people that have … immune deficiencies that cannot be exposed to COVID … so they don’t want to physically go to a voting location.”
Young outlined his arguments against council’s decision in a 40-page document, which he said he provided to council prior to Dec. 8, 2021, when a bylaw was passed to authorize the chosen voting method.
He argued internet and telephone voting options could be provided without undue hardship to the township, adding mail-in ballots did not go far enough in accommodating residents.
“Given the opportunity to include internet voting, I don’t believe that’s sufficient,” he said.
Council neglected its legal obligation to make voting accessible to those with disabilities, Young said.
Oro-Medonte employed internet/telephone voting in 2018, which was used by the majority of voters, and 194 of 444 Ontario municipalities allowed internet/telephone voting in the 2018 municipal elections.
Young also argued against security concerns cited in council’s decision.
“There was no breach of security (in the 2018 election). It ran just as it should have, other than they had extended a day because of some breakdown in the internet provider,” he said, referring to a technical error that impeded electronic voting for 90 minutes during the last election.
Security concerns raised by a councillor had nothing to do with election security, Young said.
“One councillor mentioned that there had been breaches in Wasaga Beach and … a few other ones … but they were not breaches of internet security, election security. They were breaches of the day-to-day operations,” he said.
Young also pointed to statements made by Coun. Cathy Keane — who said senior citizens may have difficulty voting via the internet — as discriminatory grounds for deciding against internet/telephone voting.
"I find that statements made by Coun. Keane, given her perception that senior residents have difficulty in using computers and would likely not vote in the 2022 municipal election, to have been a factor in her decision to vote for in-person paper ballot and mail-in paper ballot voting only in the 2022 municipal election, thereby eliminating the accommodations of internet and telephone voting to be discrimination on the grounds of age,” Young stated in his report.
Oro-Medonte Mayor Harry Hughes says the voting methods council agreed to are the same that were employed by Ontario in the recent provincial election, and thus a human rights complaint filed against the municipality would need to be filed against the province, too.
“The method of voting that we are using … is exactly the same method of voting that was just used by the province of Ontario. If this complaint is valid, then they have a complaint to lodge against the province of Ontario, as well,” Hughes told OrilliaMatters.
“There are accessibility standards that are mandated, so … once the council determines a method of voting, it’s the clerk’s responsibility to ensure that all of the rules, especially around accessibility … have to be adhered to.”
Hughes said security concerns were among the reasons council opted against internet voting for the 2022 municipal election.
“During the last term, we tried internet voting and what happened was that we found out that the cautions and the concerns, a number of them that the experts warned against, actually panned out to be true,” he said.
One security concern Hughes highlighted involved situations where residents thought they had cast an electronic vote, but later discovered they had not.
“During internet voting, people who are campaigning get lists of the names of people who have voted, so you don’t go and knock on their door again after the vote,” he said. “During the day after the election, I can tell you that there were some anomalies discovered over people who felt they voted when, in fact, they were surprised to learn that when they had cast their vote ... they had not.”
Hughes also mentioned the technical error that made internet voting impossible for 90 minutes during the 2018 election, which caused the municipality to extend voting for an additional day.
However, the November 2021 staff report noted that error “had no effect on the integrity of the election.”
Hughes also said Dominion Elections, which provided the township with its electronic voting services through the 2018 election, neglected to share much of the data it had shared with other municipalities.
“They would give you a complete breakdown by just about every way that you could look at it. They would give you the percentage of people (from) certain age groups that voted; they would give you the percentage voted on certain days … and it was a thick document. We got a document that had about three pages to it, hardly had anything,” he said.
He said part of his decision to vote against internet voting involved transparency.
“People want to have transparency when their voting takes place, and people have questions and they want to be able to validate that, in fact, things were correctly done,” he said. “There is no way, using internet voting, to be able to do that.”
Both Hughes and the November 2021 staff report to council noted, contrary to popular perception, voter turnout does not tend to change regardless of the method used.
No decision has been made by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario regarding the complaints.