A proposal to change the voting system for municipal elections Hawkesbury sparked a lively discussion at the February 11 council meeting.

Councillor Yves Paquette’s recommendation called for the town to discontinue voting by telephone and internet and replace it with traditional ballots and electronic tabulators like what are now used in Ontario provincial elections, and in many other municipalities.

It stated, “a considerable amount of comments,” were made doubting the security of phone and internet voting in the 2018 election.

The motion further stated that the telephone system did not meet expectations and should be discontinued, and that many residents still do not have internet in their homes.

Paquette’s motion also referred to the many errors on the municipal voter’s list.  The master list is developed by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC).  Municipalities across Ontario have been asking for the province to change the voter’s list development process.

“I agree that the telephone system of voting was terrible,” said Councillor Antonios Tsourounakis.

He favoured getting rid of phone system, but said he had “grave concerns” about discontinuing internet voting.

Tsourounakis said Hawkesbury’s voter turnout in 2018 was high at 52 per cent, and the provincial average 37.6 per cent.  He said that Cornwall, which is larger than Hawkesbury, uses traditional ballots and turnout there was 37.9 per cent.

Residents who don’t have internet can come and vote at the town hall said Tsourounakis, who said he even voted that way himself.

He agreed there are security concerns but noted that the PIN’s voters are given also require their date of birth.

Paquette said it is too easy for fraudulent voters to obtain information like dates of birth off social media.

He also insisted voters should have to show up at a polling station and show identification.

Tsourounakis asked Clerk Christine Groulx what would happen if someone obtained a date of birth and voted, pretending to be their neighbour.

Groulx said the system would lock up and the neighbour would have to come to the town hall and make a declaration that something went wrong.  A complaint would be filed with the OPP.

She said nobody complained about being ineligible to vote in the last election.

“By not having the internet, I don’t see this as an improvement,” said Councillor Lawrence Bogue.

He does not like telephone voting either, but said the online method needs to stay.

“The internet, we can’t take that away, no way, we’re in 2019,” Bogue said.

Councillor Robert Lefebvre said it is a question of having confidence and maintaining integrity in the system.

Tsourounakis said there is also a need to engage young people and develop a habit of voting.

He said online voting benefits not just younger people but also those with disabilities.

“The problem is with the voter’s list,” said Mayor Paula Assaly.

Groulx noted it costs more to have paper ballots and to have a contract with a tabulating company.

She added changes would have to begin being implemented immediately in order to be prepared for the 2022 election.

CAO Daniel Gatien said it is not about the system, but about properly educating voters.  He referred to the major efforts and expenses the City of Ottawa goes to with voter education.

Assaly said there are advantages to increased voter education.

Groulx said the motion could be tabled so further considerations over options and could be made.

Paquette agreed and the motion to defer was made by Councillor André Chamaillard and seconded by Councillor Bogue.