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Wellesley opts to do away with paper ballots in next year’s municipal election

There will be no more paper ballots in Wellesley Township in next year’s municipal election.

Councillors voted to have residents vote online or over the phone rather than lining up at the polling station, following the recommendation of a staff report presented Tuesday night. Registered voters will be able to vote from their homes or at the township office where a computer and telephone will be provided.

The estimated cost of the switch to telephone and Internet voting is $26,600, or $3.38 per voter. In 2014, the voting system cost $3.65 per voter.

Township Mayor Joe Nowak believes the switch from the previous system will reduce the time it takes for voters to cast their ballots.

“It seems a bit complicated at first, but in my opinion, it really is a fairly simple way of doing it. If there is problem with computers, all they have to do is pick up the phone and they can vote,” he said. “I remember in some of the past elections, line-ups of people who couldn’t get in to vote. They weren’t there on time, or the line-up was out the door and people couldn’t actually vote. I have seen that here before.”

Getting younger people to cast their votes was the main concern of Coun. Peter van der Maas. He was in favour of the motion, if it meant that the younger demographic, known for steering clear of polling stations, would make their voices heard.

“I think this is a good idea and I know there is going to be a steep learning curve and a bit of work for our administrative staff, but I went to look at Elections Canada, to see voter turnout by age, those who are 65-74 turn out, but the ones that come out the least are those who are 18-24,” he said. “That younger demographic is really being left out. If we incorporate a new voting method, I think we might be more likely to engage the younger voters, and they are an important demographic.”

While agreeing that would be a good thing, Coun. Herb Neher expressed concerns about alienating the older voters in the township.

“Are we saying that there aren’t going to be walk-in ballots anymore?” he asked. “So it will be strictly phone and Internet, no mail-in ballots. I am not too sure how well this is going to work. We are dealing with people that are used to going somewhere and voting. Is there any way of phasing this in? We have enough troubles just getting people out to put an ‘X’ down. I think the concept is good, but I don’t know. I get that we are going to get younger voters, but are we going to lose other ones that aren’t into this idea.”

He was also questioning just what impact the new system would have on voter turnout.

His concerns were addressed when chief administrative officer Rik Louwagie assured him that help would be available for any voter who needed it. There would also be a two- to three-week window when votes can be cast.

“There is a chance that the Internet voting will get a larger turnout because of the younger demographic. I think you are still going to get more voters this way,” he said. “For the individuals that actually want to go somewhere to vote, they can. They can come to the township office and our staff can assist them with that. It would be done on the Internet or the phone, but they can come in and we will assist them.”

Under the new system, registered voters will receive a card in the mail, detailing the instructions for casting their vote online, including voting URL, personal identification number, and the number to call to vote over the phone.

There will be security questions for the voter to answer, they will make their picks on the ballot, then be given a chance to review their choices and make changes if necessary.

Once a vote is recorded, the voter’s name is automatically removed from the list of voters.

The staff report says there is encryption in place to keep the voter information separate from the cast ballot.

All policy and procedure for the 2018 election will be finalized by Dec. 29, 2017.

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