Northeast Town may do away with paper ballots for upcoming election

NORTHEAST TOWN—Northeast Town council is reviewing a staff recommendation that would see an end to paper ballots for the upcoming fall municipal election.

At the March 8 meeting of council, CAO Dave Williamson asked council to consider online and telephone voting instead of traditional paper ballots, noting that May 1 would be the last day council could legally pass a bylaw to authorize the use of this form of voting and any equipment that is required as the following day, May 2, marks the start of the nomination period.

“Over the past few elections, the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands has used the mail-in ballot format for voting and it has worked well for us; however like anything new, a tried and tested alternative to this format is internet and telephone voting,” a staff report states. “It has been established that internet and telephone voting improves efficiency and enhances the integrity of the process by eliminating spoiled ballots and reducing opportunities for miscounting paper ballots.”

On top of a zero degree of human error or spoiled ballots with internet and telephone voting, Mr. Williamson noted the cost difference is relatively minor compared to mail-in ballots, $21,000 compared to $17,000.

Mr. Williamson explained that each registered voter would receive a numerical code that would allow them to cast their ballot.

Councillor Bill Koehler expressed his concern for a switch away from paper ballots, considering the municipality’s high rate of senior citizens, noting that as a senior himself, he sometimes has issues with computers and could see voting in this way being an issue for some constituents. Councillor Koehler asked Mr. Williamson if there would be any public polling stations where a paper ballot could be cast. Mr. Williamson responded that there would be two public stations where a computer would be provided for use.

Councillor Barb Baker, who has worked on delivering programs to seniors on such topics as computer literacy and who has helped institute similar programs in a past life, said she disagreed, saying that she thought the senior population would get along fine with the new process.

Councillor Michael Erskine suggested a sense of what the taxpayers want in a voting system be gauged before moving forward with the change.

The topic has already caused a letter to the editor to be penned by one ratepayer, which can be found on Page 4 of this newspaper.

Further discussion was tabled to a meeting to be held later this month.