To the surprise of no one, Sudbury city council voted Tuesday to offer voters a mix of online and paper ballots for the 2022 election, following the meltdown of Internet voting in 2018.
City Clerk Eric Labelle said adding the paper option on voting day will cost about $600,000 more than the online only option, although that amount could come down when the city issues the actual RFP closing to the vote. That would bring the cost of voting equipment and services to about $900,000.
The move comes after the well-publicized problems with the October 2018 election, when the Internet provider used by Dominion Voting limited bandwidth, slowing voting to a crawl in dozens of municipalities. Some, like Sudbury, extended voting for another day.
Mayor Brian Bigger vowed to hold staff responsible for the fiasco -- although it later emerged it was a problem with Dominion Voting – and promised the paper ballot option would be part of the next vote.
Councillors also had a lengthy discussion of problems with the voters list. Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini said he received several reports of people receiving multiple ballots, some for people who had passed away, others received ballots in both their married and unmarried names.
“We even had some Americans receive ballots,” Vagnini said. “What was stopping those individuals from going online and voting?
“There's a flaw in the system -- what can we do to make sure that doesn't happen again? Let's address it now – we have a lot of time. Let's not turn a blind eye to it.”
The problem, he said, is the list from MPAC was flawed and contained a lot of outdated information.
Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier said the list for the provincial election had far fewer errors, but the province forces municipalities to use MPAC.
“The province refuses to allow us to use the provincial voters list,” Cormier said.
One of the issues with the MPAC list is that it contains current information about homeowners, but relies on landlords to let them know when renters move or pass away. Not only does that discriminate against people who don't own homes, it means the city uses a list with more errors than the one used by upper levels of government.
Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland said he welcomed the return of the paper ballot option, but would like to see the province allow the city to use another process to come up with the list other than MPAC, which he said is “fundamentally discriminatory” since it's based on people who own land.
He's planning to introduce a motion to lobby the province for reforms ahead of the 2022 election.
While the report on ballot options for the next election recommended against using ranked ballots, councillors were told that they can still adopt ranked ballots if they so choose.
Ranked ballots allow voters to select their first, second, third, etc., choices for city council. If any one person receives 50 per cent of the vote, they win. If not, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. At that point, that candidate's ballots are redistributed according to voters' second choice. The process repeats itself until a candidate is declared the winner.
The report recommends against the new voting method for a few reasons. For one, the only city that tried ranked ballots in 2018 – London – saw their election costs double as a result.
And because it's such a major change, it's likely to confuse a lot of electors and require a lot of education to ensure the public understands it.
“Ranked balloting is a new concept that may be confusing to experienced and new voters alike,” the report says. “As such, extensive resources would need to be dedicated to support public engagement and education initiatives to ensure that voters are aware of the changes and comfortable with voting in a ranked ballot election.”
But if the situation changes and ranked balloting becomes feasible, Labelle said council can vote to adopt it, as long as they decide by May before the vote.