Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Meaford to Abandon Online Voting for 2022 Municipal Election

Stephen Vance, Staff

In the next municipal election, to be held in 2022, Meaford voters will return to the more traditional in-person voting and mail-in ballots, after Council opted to abandon electronic voting during their October 19 meeting at Meaford Hall.

A staff report presented to Council at the meeting outlined a number of voting method options for Council to consider, including the continuation of online and telephone voting which has been used in the municipality for the past two elections.

In his report, municipal Clerk Matt Smith advised that, while Meaford has used a combination of online and telephone voting in the past two municipal elections, there is growing resistance to online voting.

There have been an increasing number of municipalities using internet voting because it is a fast and efficient voting method. Users of online voting have found it is simple, convenient and private,” Smith told Council. However, he added that, “Despite an encrypted database for voting data storage, there are concerns respecting the security of internet voting, including fraudulent activity, viruses and other technical threats associated with the system, and transmission of personal information. Additionally, there is the perception that internet voting may violate privacy concerns, including family members exercising illegitimate and unlawful authority to compel a family member’s vote or voting on behalf of an individual with their credentials.”

Smith also noted that, despite the increased use of online voting in Canada, there are still no standards or regulations governing electronic voting. Smith also noted the technical issues experienced in the 2018 municipal election which resulted in the extension of the voting period.

The service provider used by the Municipality in 2018, Dominion Voting Systems, experienced a significant technical issue in the closing hours of the election, resulting in the voting period being extended for an additional day. Unfortunately this technical issue may have a negative impact on the public’s perception of internet voting despite this being a specific issue relating to bandwidth which had no effect on the integrity of the election or elector’s personal information,” Smith noted. “Staff feel that due to past experience, current perceptions from the public, and considerations of overall efficiency, a hybrid option of vote-by-mail and in-person voting should be used in the 2022 election year. Using two separate methods will allow for wider coverage, while also considering individual voter preference.”

The in-person and vote by mail methods had been used in the municipality prior to switching to online and telephone voting in 2014.

Offering a dual system means that voters could opt for the option that works best for them, bearing in mind their ability to attend a polling station, whether due to their location at the time of the election, or other personal issues,” Smith advised Council. “Those electors who prefer vote-by-mail would however be required to register in advance. This would offer more flexibility to our non-residents unavailable to vote in-person only. Unless otherwise registered in advance for vote-by-mail, voters would then attend polling stations on Election Day to cast their votes. Staff would recommend that communications efforts be targeted towards the promotion of vote-by-mail as an option to ensure that those voters who cannot or do not wish to vote in person are registered by the appropriate deadline.”

Smith also noted that requiring registration in order for an elector to vote-by-mail also removes many of the issues identified around security and the voters list.

Ballots, or voting credentials, are not issued to every name on the voters list, but only to those presenting themselves in person at a polling station, or who have signed an application form for vote-by-mail. This signature provides an option for ballot validation should it become necessary during the election process.”

Members of Council supported the move away from online voting and the return to more traditional voting methods, voting unanimously in favour of using in-person and mail-in voting for the 2022 municipal election.

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