City Council Preview – What’s on the Agenda for the February 17 Meeting?

This is 2021, which means in less than two years we’re going to have to go to the polls and vote for city council again. Before that happens, we have to decide how we’re going to vote. There will continue to be an option to vote in-person, but what about options to vote from home given current events. What are we going to do when we go to the polls in 2022? That’s the topic of this month’s special meeting.

NOTE #1: Delegates will be able to appear at this meeting via telephone, but you do have to register with the clerks office before 10 am on February 12. You can also submit written delegations and correspondences for agenda items.

NOTE #2: The meeting will be closed to the public, though it will be live-streamed on the City of Guelph’s website here.

Voting Systems and Alternative Voting Methods for the 2022 Municipal Election -We pause any consideration about what we will be voting for in 2022 to discuss how we will be voting. There will be in-person voting, of that we can be assured, but there’s a question about additional voting methods since there will likely still be some concern about big public gatherings next year, like waiting in line to vote. To answer those concerns, the clerks office is suggesting something radical but well-proven for the 2022 Municipal Election: mail-in ballots.

The Clerks are recommending mail-in ballots over internet and phone voting as the alternative voting option since it’s become more prevalent since the start of the pandemic, and has already been used in municipal by-elections run in Ottawa and Toronto. There’s also a historical role for mail-in ballots, which have been often used in remote areas in Ontario and across Canada. “This method can be most widely accessed by voters, the ability to thoroughly audit and verify recount with a paper ballot, familiarity to voters, and increasing use in elections,” information manager Jennifer Slater wrote in the report.

What about that internet voting option? The City of Guelph used internet voting in 2014, but council voted against doing it again in 2018 by a slim 6-7 vote based mainly on concerns about cyber security. Guelph residents who took part in a phone survey still don’t share those concerns though because 65.1 per cent of the respondents said that internet voting was their first choice for alternative voting; 21 per cent said mail-in voting was their first choice.

While people noted in the City’s engagement that they were comfortable with internet voting, when it came to mail-in voting they had concerns about ballots getting lost in the mail, or that it takes too much time to either receive or return the ballots. Still, when it comes to security, and when it comes to meeting the principles of voting laid out in the Municipal Election Act, mail-in ballots check all the boxes.

“Internet voting is not recommended as it may not uphold all principles of the MEA, including the secrecy of the vote and integrity of the election, ongoing voters’ list limitations in 2022, a lack of standards that would establish clear requirements for more thorough audit of the internet voting system and all related processes that would ensure integrity of the election process and support greater community trust in an internet voting method and election results,” the report said.

Regardless of approving mail-in ballots, or changing minds to approve internet voting, the report notes that the vast majority of voters still intend to vote in-person.

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