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Marking a digital ‘X’

Woolwich deputy clerks Jeff Smith and clerk Val Hummel are overseeing the transition to digital voting, encouraging residents to embrace the available options. [Veronica Reiner / The Observer]

When Woolwich and Wellesley voters head to the polls next month, they’ll be doing so without traditional paper ballots. It’s a first for the townships.

With the municipal election voting period opening up in less than two weeks – election day is October 22, but voting starts October 9 – the public will be presented with telephone or online voting options.

“We’re finding more and more municipalities doing this across the province,” said Jeff Smith, deputy clerk for the Township of Woolwich, on what prompted the decision to go paperless. “It was almost doubling each year we looked at it. Our estimate this year is about 200 municipalities are using internet and telephone voting in some way for this election.”

“The inspiration behind changing the voting method in the Township of Wellesley was the ability to provide our residents a more convenient, accessible, flexible opportunity to vote,” added Amy Harron, deputy clerk for the Township of Wellesley. “We hope having the ability to cast your ballot anytime during the 14-day voting period will encourage eligible electors to participate in the election.”

The voting period will open up on October 9 at 10 a.m. and close on October 22 at 8 p.m. Voters can cast their ballot at any time, 24/7 during that timeframe.

For those without internet access or touch-tone phone, there will be election centres open on the last day of voting at the Woolwich administration office, Wellesley administration office, Woolwich Memorial Centre,  Breslau Community Centre, and St. Jacobs fire station.

“It’s a reliable and secure voting method – it’s been used for over ten years in Ontario,” explained Smith of the advantages of the new method.

“There are security controls to ensure that each ballot is secret and protected. It’s accessible, so if an elector is away on personal travel, if you’re suffering from an illness, if you work day or nights and find traditional voting hours inconvenient, or if you are a person with a disability, you can cast your ballot from anywhere with an internet connection or telephone.”

It is also environmentally friendly, saving electors gas money to travel to voting locations and by not using paper. Results of the election will also be tabulated much quicker.

“It is very fast, very convenient,” said Smith. “We are hoping we will see the results shortly after 8 o’clock. We’re not seeing results any earlier than 8:15, but it should be quite a bit faster than a hand-counted set of results.”

Both Townships have taken initiatives to raise awareness of this new voting system through the use of advertisements, social media, notifications on the municipal websites, and word-of-mouth at various events. Woolwich will also be visiting institutional retirement homes in the area to assist seniors with voting.

Residents of the townships should receive a voter information letter in the mail by October 9 with all of the information needed to cast a vote, including a voter ID and PIN. Electors will also use their birth year to verify their identity and sign off on an oath of declaration.

If voters do not receive the letter, they are encouraged to request a new one at the applicable township administration office. More information can be found at www.woolwich.ca/election or www.wellesley.ca/election.  Alternatively, the voter helpline is 519-669-6049 (Woolwich) or 519-699-3968 (Wellesley).

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