If you wanted to vote online in the next municipal election, you’ll be disappointed in Kitchener.

A report by Reg Gosse, City Clerk, recommends against it for three reasons in a report to Council’s Standing Committee on Finance and Corporate Services:

  • a large additional cost to holding the vote
  • concerns over safeguarding the democratic process (i.e. difficult to make sure that the person voting is actually to person voting and voting for their choice of candidates)
  • research shows that online voting doesn’t increase voter turnout

I’ve never thought that online voting was a panacea for voter turnout. On the other hand, given how much of our lives can easily be conducted online I thought that we should be able to vote online too. Having read the read, I must agree that Mr. Gosse has made the right recommendation for the right reasons. I’d like to note that a voter turnout subcommittee of Compass Kitchener reached the same conclusion regarding turnout.

The standing committee or City Council could decide to move in a different direction and ask for internet voting but given the limited impact and substantial cost, I don’t expect that to happen.

Online voting could help hold by-elections

Mr. Gosse presented a draft of his report to Compass Kitchener (of which I am a member) last week. I suggested that he suggest that the door to online voting be kept open a crack and be an option for a by-election between 2014 and 2018. We’ve recently seen both of our local school boards chose to appoint a trustee when they had a vacancy despite having more than half of the 4 year term left. The reason? Cost. The City of Toronto may make a similar decision should the decision that Rob Ford step down stand up upon appeal.

I don’t think anyone should be appointed to fill a vacancy with more than 2 years left on a 4 year term. In fact, I’d prefer to see a by-election when there’s more than a full year left after the date of a by-election. If online voting can be used (perhaps instead of having as many standard polling stations) and lower the cost of a by-election, I believe it is a cost worth paying.

Additional thoughts on voter turnout

I also took the opportunity of talking about voter turnout with Mr. Gosse to suggest:

  • The city offer all candidates the opportunity to provide a link to their campaign website. In the last municipal election, I found it difficult to believe that the city told me where a candidate lived (and I could go knock on their door to ask them questions) but did not have a link to the same candidate’s website. The concern is that some candidates may not have a website and may complain about favoritism on the part of the city. But since the vast majority of candidate’s do have websites and there are no financial barriers to having one, I see not having a website as a candidate’s choice and they have no right to complain if the city offers this method of contact for every candidate. Doing so helps voters to easily educate themselves and can help to at least minimally increase turnout since people turn to online sources to find out who’s running and what they think.
  • I also asked that there be an advance polling station in downtown. I was told there would be advance polls in each ward in the next municipal election and I was happy. But later I realized that doesn’t mean there will be one in the downtown core since Ward 9 and 10 both could have advance polls some distance from the core–far enough to dissuade some folks such as those experiencing homelessness to even consider trying to vote. So I’d like to suggest again that at least one advance poll be placed in the downtown core. This recommendation is the same as one of the recommendations I made following the last municipal election.

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