Chief returning officer suggests it's time to use automated tabulators after problems with Monday's vote

Calgary's chief returning officer says Monday's municipal election — which saw very long voter lineups, shortages of ballots and crashes of the website supplying results — could be a sign it's time to adopt a more automated approach.

City of Calgary criticized for ballot shortages, long queues and slow results

Calgary's chief returning officer, Laura Kennedy, says it's time for the city to look at bringing in automated vote tabulators for municipal votes. (CBC)

Calgary's chief returning officer says Monday's municipal election — which saw very long voter lineups, shortages of ballots and crashes of the website supplying results — could be a sign it's time to adopt a more automated approach. 

Some polling stations were forced to stay open late to accommodate a massive turnout, which forced officials at many stations to put out the call for extra ballots as frustrated voters waited, sometimes in lineups that stretched well out into the street.

Voter turnout was higher than it's been in more than four decades, with 387,306 votes cast by 58.1 per cent of the electorate, according to Elections Calgary.

Numbers on the city's live results website were slow to load and the site crashed repeatedly through the evening.

Lineups were very long at several voting stations around Calgary, and high voter turnout led some locations to temporarily run out of ballots for Monday's election. (CBC)

Naheed Nenshi was re-elected for a third term as Calgary's mayor, and all of the incumbent councillors secured their seats. There will be four new councillors at city hall.

Chief returning officer Laura Kennedy held a media conference Tuesday morning to address the issues. 

"That was a very long night," she said.

This was the first election Kennedy has ever worked on where unofficial results could not be released until 6 a.m. the next morning, she said.

"Why the delay? Well, the count was slower," she said.

Kennedy said Edmonton, where she last worked, and many other Canadian cities, use automated tabulators at the polling sites — a technology that vastly speeds up the counting process.

"I'm thinking it might be time. Most local jurisdictions across Canada are using it, so I wouldn't say it's prohibitive."

Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt says the whole voting process was a fiasco.

"All the indications were going on to election day were that voter turnout was going to be higher, and yet they had one polling station in Auburn Bay, a community of 12,000. They ran out of ballots," he said.

Bratt says in federal and provincial elections, officials are required to have 10 per cent more ballots than registered voters.

'Many' stations called for extra ballots

Kennedy was unable to say precisely how many polling stations put out calls for extra ballots, but she characterized it as "many." 

She acknowledged that the afternoon rush hour slowed down couriers who were dispatched to deliver the extra ballots.

"That's one of the systems we're looking to improve for next time," she said. 

Kennedy said security issues prevent Elections Calgary from simply stockpiling extra ballots at the polling stations. 

Responding to anecdotal accounts, on social media and elsewhere, of election officials at polling stations telling voters to simply vote for mayor — for which there were still ballots — and not for councillor or school trustee, Kennedy promised to investigate.

"To hear that is disturbing. We will look into that," she said. 

The final results indicate that 5.8 per of voters cast ballots for mayor only, compared to just two per cent who did so during the last municipal election. 

  Mayor Naheed Nenshi told the  Calgary Eyeopener he's grateful to the Calgarians who put up with the long queues to have their say.

'It's a beautiful thing'

"I know it was frustrating, and I apologize for that. But standing out on a beautiful fall evening, and being able to cast your ballot in a world where it is so dangerous for so many to be able to do that … it's a beautiful thing," he said. 

  Nenshi said that given there was a new team running the election, including a new city clerk and chief returning officer, they did a good job.

"Council gave them a really, really tough mandate — massively increase voter turnout. And I think, by and large, they did that," he said. 

"The advance polls were amazing and it kind of fell apart in the last two hours. But everything up to that went really well."

  Gailene Jack and her husband waited about two and a half hours to cast their ballots.

"I put in my vote, and best person wins. So, I'm glad I stuck it out," she said.

The city's chief information technology officer, Heather Reed-Fenske, said the city's results webpage, which repeatedly crashed Monday night, was swamped with 3.2 million hits between 8 and 11 p.m.

She said her team believed it was ready for double the normal traffic, but at 4.5 hits per second at the peak of traffic on Monday night, the site had three times the traffic it had during the last vote.