Improving voter accessibility is not “controversial in any way,” believes Mayor Cam Guthrie, who hopes council supports a proposed pilot project allowing a vote-from-home option during next year’s municipal election for those who cannot attend in person, as well as have staff dig a little deeper into the idea of electronic ballot-marking.
“I think this council and the community will always be very supportive of trying to find ways of making sure that one of the most important things that we get to do as a citizen, which is vote, is explored,” he said. “I wouldn’t expect this to be controversial in any way.”
Guthrie will ask his council colleagues to consider the ideas, pulled from a staff information report released earlier this month, during council's June 29 meeting.
In that report, city staff recommend allowing vote-from-home appointments to be booked by up to 60 qualifying residents and conducted over three advanced voting days, at a cost of about $8,000. Such a program would be designed to accommodate people who are unable to leave their home to vote or use the council-approved mail-in ballot option due to illness, injury or disability.
“I don’t think it’ll be a problem for anybody,” Guthrie said of the pilot project, noting it’s already done at the provincial and federal levels. “In a way, the municipality would be in-line with what is being offered in other elections already.”
The staff report also makes mention of a motion from the city’s accessibility advisory committee (AAC) calling on council to allow people to use their assistive technology to mark their ballot rather than depend on others for help.
Known as electronic ballot marking, the process involves using devices to help voters with vision impairments and other conditions to understand their ballot and make their selections before printing a paper version to be counted alongside those cast in person.
Guthrie hopes council will agree to have staff investigate that option and report back with its findings.
“I really do think council needs to have a bit more of a fulsome discussion about this issue and to hear from advocates,” Guthrie said. “We need to know how a vendor could be chosen for this technology. We need to know the cost. We need to know how it could be implemented and communicated to the community that would be interested in using such a method to mark their ballot. There’s lots of logistics that would need to be worked out.
“If all that information … is positive, I would certainly like to see this implemented.”
During a special meeting in February, council voted down the idea of allowing online voting for the 2022 municipal election – something that was permitted during advanced voting in 2014 and denied in 2018 – opting for mail-in ballots as well as traditional in-person voting. At the time, the concept of an in-home voting pilot project was put forward.
Fear of manipulation of the result and an inability to confirm results through a recount were cited as the main reasons against hosting an online election.
Unsatisfied with the mail-in option as an accessible alternative, in May the ACC unanimously urged council to adopt electronic ballot-marking to enable people to vote independently and not have to rely on anyone else to mark and/or submit their ballot.
“I really, really, really hope the city moves forward with this,” said Lorelei Root, accessibility advocate and chair of the AAC election subcommittee, noting she’s pleased the idea will be discussed by council.
“I know a lot of the councillors are interested,” she said, acknowledging there may be some hesitancy due to confusion with online voting. “It’s not hackable because nothing is happening online, it’s all real paper ballots. I think once there’s an understanding, I don’t see there being any issues with it.”
Council has until May 1 of an election year to establish the permissible voting methods.