Guelph may become one of the first municipalities in Ontario to offer home visit voting for those who are unable to attend in-person on election day.
The idea, floated by city clerk Stephen O’Brien in a recent report to council, follows what’s been offered for years at the provincial and federal levels.
“We’ve already started meeting as a staff group, planning and getting our ducks in a row … for the election,” said O’Brien, who also serves as returning officer for municipal elections in the city. “The nice thing is we do have a lot of lead-up time to October 2022.”
That’s when the next municipal election will be held.
Not much about the initiative has been decided at this point, including whether it’s even possible to do. That determination, which rests with O’Brien, will come in the months ahead.
“We do need to understand better how they’re resourced … to better understand if it’s something we can implement,” he said, noting council’s pending decision on voting methods will have an impact.
Council is expected to decide on Wednesday, Feb. 17 whether to implement a remote voting option for the 2022 election. Staff is recommending the use of mail-in ballots over offering online voting.
“It’s sort of a rolling ball for us in terms of let’s get through the 17th and understand that (council decision) and then say … under what circumstances or what context can we deliver that kind of program for the community,” said O’Brien.
In addition to figuring out the staff time required to offer home visit voting, factors include eligibility as well as the registration process and timeline.
In the case of provincial elections, home visit voting can be requested if you’re unable to cast your ballot in person due to a disability; if you’re unable to read or write; if you’re unable to complete an application form; or you are “someone who requires assistance,” says the Elections Ontario website.
If approved, two election officials will take a special ballot application form and a write-in ballot to your home, the site explains, noting voters need to show identification and complete the application form before receiving their ballot.
Though a decision about whether or not to offer home visit voting isn’t a political one, the concept has the support of at least two members of city council.
Coun. Cathy Downer said she’s worked in the returning office for provincial and federal elections and is “really happy” the option is being considered municipally.
“I think that is a great move forward for accessibility. I really hope that the city clerk ... moves ahead with that,” she said. “It’s very important for those people to be able to vote as others day.”
Mayor Cam Guthrie said the possibility of in-home voting, combined with the use of mail-in ballots, sufficiently address his concerns about voter accessibility, which is what has prompted him to push for an online voting option.
The election process has evolved through the years, notes O’Brien.
At first, people could only vote at a specific polling location within their ward. Then it was opened up so people could vote from any polling station within the city during the advanced voting period.
Now people can cast a ballot at any poll in the city on election day, no matter what ward they call home.
The prospect of including home visit voting is a continuation of that evolution.
“Our approach with elections is very much an iterative approach to delivering services. We see the election as an important part of democracy and that process as a fundamental piece,” O’Brien said. “Really, it’s a service we deliver to the community.”