Report finds municipal election needs modernizing in Calgary

There could be some big changes coming for the next municipal election in Calgary.

City clerk Laura Kennedy presented preliminary report to city council on problems seen during October vote

Returning Officer for the City of Calgary Laura Kennedy said they are looking for people who are "passionate about the community." (CBC)

There could be some big changes coming for the next municipal election in Calgary.

City clerk Laura Kennedy presented a preliminary report to city council on the problems encountered in this past October's election, when she served as chief returning officer.

There were long lineups due to a heavier than anticipated turnout, some polling stations ran out of ballots and there were delays in getting additional ballots out in a timely way.

The result was some people either walked away or were unable to mark all of their choices.

Then there were long delays in publicly reporting the results of the vote, meaning some winners weren't known until after midnight.

The report indicates that the city's website could sustain 148 hits per second, but at its peak, 812 hits per second were being recorded.

That meant big delays in getting available results out to the public.

"Voters, candidates and media did not have the positive voting experience they were expecting," Kennedy told council.

So she has a long list of things she'll be reviewing as the city examines modernizing its election process.

That list includes:

  • Accessibility —  stations, hours of voting, distribution of ballots.
  • Voting technologies to improve the voting process, including tabulators that could speed the counting.
  • Training of election workers.
  • Communications with Calgarians on the election.

Technology is one area that Kennedy is ready to embrace.

She used to work with the City of Edmonton and is familiar with the use of voting tabulators.

That type of machine was used in the provincial byelection in Calgary-Lougheed last week.

Voters mark their X and feed the ballot into the machine. It registers the vote and the paper ballot drops below the machine. When the polls close, the machine prints out the result for that location.

In the case of Calgary-Lougheed, all of the votes were reported within an hour.

Kennedy said Edmonton leases its machines for election day and it can be done without incurring huge new costs.

"If we do go to contract, we'd be looking at getting the best possible rate for Calgarians," said Kennedy.

She's also looking at an electronic poll book, which is a digital version of the voters' list. That could reduce delays for voters or help election workers process more people in a shorter timeframe.

Voter assist terminals will also be examined. They allow disabled voters to cast a ballot independently.

Coun. Shane Keating said long huge lineups to vote in places like Auburn Bay and Mahogany prompted some to leave the polling stations in frustration. (Shane Keating)

Coun. Shane Keating said he's pleased the city is looking at modernizing its processes because going with what it has done in the past is no longer good enough.

He pointed to huge lineups to vote in places like Auburn Bay and Mahogany, two of the fastest growing communities in the city in recent years.

That, combined with a lack of ballots, meant some people left the polls in frustration.

"We have to get a mentality shift of saying 'how are we servicing them and how are we going to continue to do things differently?' That's where I think the failure, if you want to call it that, was," said Keating.

The city auditor is also going to review how the 2017 election processes unfolded.

Council voted to direct Kennedy to complete a comprehensive report to the city by the end of September 2018 on how she would like to reform the election.

It also requested that she include election eligibility requirements for both voters and candidates — and how to enhance identification requirements for both without disenfranchising anyone.