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Online voting eyed for civic election

Election night at city hall in 2008. Just one in five registered voters cast ballots that year. The city is looking at online voting, polling stations in malls and published candidate profiles to boost voter turnout. - file photo
Election night at city hall in 2008. Just one in five registered voters cast ballots that year. The city is looking at online voting, polling stations in malls and published candidate profiles to boost voter turnout.
— image credit: file photo

Online voting, polling stations in malls and published candidate profiles could boost declining voter turnout in municipal elections, says the city’s chief election officer.

David Weber, director of the city clerk’s office, told council Monday that allowing citizens to cast votes online would follow in the footsteps of 33 municipalities in Ontario.

“At this point we are in no position to be looking at it for this election, that’s for sure. The legal framework is not in place to allow it at this point,” said Weber.

The next civic election is Nov. 19, 2011. Weber noted a “significant amount of investigation and work” is needed before online voting is considered for the 2014 municipal contest.

Just one in five registered voters cast ballots in the last municipal election of 2008. That voter turnout, 22.1 per cent, was the lowest since 1971.

Online voting isn’t prescribed in B.C. law, but senior government officials are expressing increasing interest in employing the technology. Elections Canada aims to conduct a byelection by 2013 with online voting as an option.

Online voting would give voters another option and wouldn’t replace polling stations, Weber said.

“It’s a good option, it does provide very good access for a lot of people, and it probably provides better access to those who are away.”

Although all councillors agreed Monday to investigate the idea, Coun. Harold Steves said he has concerns political parties could usurp the process by arranging to vote online for those who don’t normally cast ballots.

“I know that’s part of the reason the province has hesitated in moving in this direction,” responded Weber. “I think that’s why it does really take a lot of time. You can’t rush to it.”

City council also endorsed a raft of other election ideas from Weber, including allowing voters to cast ballots at any polling station through a single electronic voters’ list. That would offer convenience to voters and allow the city to set up “super polls” in busy locations such as shopping malls. It would also add $88,000 to the cost of an election.

Also proposed is distributing an election guide to local homes—at a cost of $16,000—and publishing it online. The guide, used by Vancouver in the last election, would offer profiles of candidates.

“I think it helps (candidates) who may not have the money,” said Coun. Greg Halsey-Brandt, “and it offers other alternatives to people.”

Coun. Evelina Halsey-Brandt agreed.

“This gives an advantage to those who don’t get the newspaper. I’m quite willing to explore that one, and working toward Internet voting as one more way to vote.”

Also proposed is a $25,000 advertising and multimedia campaign to boost public awareness, and organize focus groups and a post-election telephone survey to analyze voting behaviour.


Ideas to boost voter turnout

•Online voting

•A vote anywhere/super poll system

•Publish candidate profiles on website and in election guide

•Advertising and multimedia campaign to boost public awareness

•Organize a post-election telephone survey and focus groups to collect data on success of voting strategies

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