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Mayor accuses some councillors of supressing votes and 'fear mongering' over online voting

'This is such an example of a profound lack of leadership' fires back one of those councillors
20161024 cam Guthrie 1 ts
Mayor Cam Guthrie. File photo

Mayor Cam Guthrie is accusing seven city councillors who voted against enhanced online voting in the next civic election of "electioneering" and voter suppression.

One of those seven, Ward 4 Coun. Mike Salisbury, has fired back by saying the Mayor is showing "a profound lack of leadership" and is using the issue for his own political gains.

Guthrie has launched a campaign to try and overturn a 7-5 vote at Monday's Committee of the Whole meeting that rejected a staff recommendation for an increased online voting option in the next election.

Guthrie was on a family vacation and unable to attend that meeting.

The same motion is on the table for final vote at the full meeting of council on Apr. 24.

Supporters of online voting in the next election say it increases voter turnout and allows people with health, age and access issues the opportunity to vote more easily and comfortably.

Opponents say, among other things, that until security and voter registration issues are addressed online voting opens the door for possible voter fraud and abuse of the process.

"This is very political ... This is an attack on the democratic institutions of this city," the Mayor said Thursday.

"Those that oppose online voting will dangle the fear mongering card and the 'what if' scenarios and the conspiracy theories out there to try and justify the removal of this voting option.

"But what it really does is it suppresses the vote. These same people that are trying to have these types of tactics are always the same people that have the mantra that 'every vote counts.' They will scream 'every vote counts' from city hall, but when it comes to accessible online voting, that has been proven to work with no issues of fraud or misuse, they want to take it away."

In the 2014 election 13,000 people - 33 per cent of all voters - used online voting to vote in advance of election day.

Guthrie, who has been campaigning on social media to rally constituents to get the seven councillors to change their minds, said voters are "livid."

Salisbury is certainly livid - livid at Guthrie.

"I am really upset. This is such an example of a profound lack of leadership," Salisbury shot back.

"Here we have an issue that's serious: important, technical, complex .... we're supposed to debate it, we're not supposed to shame other people into seeing it or calling them names or being provocative and divisive.

"It is such an insult when we've got a Mayor that doesn't build consensus .... this is just garbage."

Salisbury said Guthrie "started campaigning two years ago last November."

"It is just the most horrific working conditions I've ever been exposed to," Salisbury said.

"There's no building of conciliation, there's no attempt to understand. There's just name calling, mud throwing and spin, because somebody wants to get re-elected as Mayor. It's sickening and I find it disgraceful that we have an environment that we can't have a good honest debate on an issue such as this."

As for internet voting, Salisbury echoed the thoughts of many at last Monday's meeting that there are legitimate concerns about online voting security and about voter registration procedures that could lead to fraud.

Salisbury and Coun. Phil Allt, who also voted against internet voting, said Thursday they would be all for internet voting if security and voter registration concerns were addressed down the road.

Salisbury said he voted via the internet in the last election.

Allt said he actually went in to Monday's meeting intending to vote in favour of maintaining advanced internet voting, but had his mind changed by the discussion around the horseshoe and by the delegates that day.

"I'm sorry that the Mayor is fear mongering, but I won't retaliate at all," Allt said.

"But as an elected municipal councillor I am entrusted with public safety and security and I don't care if it's traffic safety, water and hydro security. The vote is far more important to ensure that it's secured. I have to take protection of the public over popularism any time."

Allt, like Guthrie, said they have received a lot of constituents supporting their stance.

"What I've heard right now is that the supports (for online voting) are not there."

Guthrie said there are two reasons some councillors want to stop accessible online voting in 2018," Guthrie said.

"Number one, it's because they're protectionists. They're more concerned with holding onto their own seats, than wanting to help increase voter turnout through making accessible online voting available, which could allow more votes to come in, putting their seat in jeopardy," the Mayor said.

"Number two, they saw the impact and the results of the last election and they didn't like it," he said, referring to the "result" that saw him become mayor.

Voting results from the 2014 election actually show that all current councillors had the first or second most votes in their wards when the 13,000 advanced votes done via the internet were counted on election night, as did Guthrie.


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Tony Saxon

About the Author: Tony Saxon

Tony Saxon has had a rich and varied 30 year career as a journalist, an award winning correspondent, columnist, reporter, feature writer and photographer.
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