Kitchener-Waterloo

Kitchener wants to know how people want to vote in 2022 municipal election

The City of Kitchener wants to understand how people would like to vote in the 2022 municipal election. That could include online, by phone or mail, but it can't include ranked ballots.

City staff pleased with 'excellent response rate' so far; survey open until Aug. 31

There's a survey on the Engage Kitchener website asking people how they'd like to vote in the 2022 municipal election. (Peggy Lam/ CBC)

Kitchener is asking people how they want to vote in the 2022 municipal election.

The city has set up a survey through the Engage Kitchener website asking people for their thoughts when it comes to voting online, by phone or by mail.

The survey also asks people about their experiences in 2018: if they voted at all, whether it was easy to cast a ballot, were there difficulties accessing a voting location, if they felt intimidated or anxious about voting and whether people felt represented by the candidates.

Christine Tarling is the city clerk in Kitchener and director of legislated services. She says the city has until May 1 of next year to decide how to allow people to vote.

"In order to assist staff with all of the planning that needs to happen for the election, we are asking citizens to engage with us with respect to, what methods would they like to see? And then we will present that information, along with other research, to council to help inform them for a recommendation for alternative voting methods for 2022," Tarling said in an interview.

So far, more than 500 people have taken the survey, Tarling said.

"We're happy, very happy with the excellent response rate that we've had so far," she said.

Lower voter turnout

In Waterloo region, getting people to the polls in a municipal election can be tough. Experts have said previously there are various reasons for that, from a lack of understanding or knowledge about the candidates, from people being tired, from voting in provincial or federal elections within a few months to a year of a municipal one.

Some municipalities that have had online voting in the past do not have plans to return to it. That includes Guelph where city council voted in February of this year not to use online voting in 2022, even though the city saw a 10 percentage point jump in the number of people casting a ballot when online voting was allowed in 2014, compared to 2010. 

The number of people who voted in the 2018 election fell by seven percentage points from 2014.

Instead, Guelph councillors voted in favour of sending a letter to the provincial government to advocate for Ontario-wide certification standards when it comes to online voting systems "that can be adopted for future elections where online voting methods are implemented."

Some experts, including Aleksander Essex of Western University in London, has said municipalities should steer clear of online voting for now because there are no Canadian standards governing how voter data is kept safe.

The 2018 election also saw hiccups with online voting systems that were used by municipalities in Waterloo region, causing delays in results.

Ranked ballots?

The Engage Kitchener survey also offers a breakout "ideas board" for people to leave suggestions for how elections could be conducted in the future.

One suggestion is to allow for ranked ballots. London, Ont., had ranked ballots in the 2018 election. The city found two-thirds of people who voted did rank candidates but the new technology needed to handle the ballots added to the cost of running the election.

Cambridge has also debated using ranked ballots previously and held a referendum on it in 2018.

But in November 2020, the province passed the Supporting Ontario's Recovery and Municipal Elections Act which actually prohibits municipalities from using ranked ballots.

A spokesperson for Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo the move was to maintain "predictability and consistency for municipal elections, while better respecting taxpayers' dollars."

"We believe it is important that the way the people vote in provincial and federal elections is the same way they vote in municipal elections," said Clark's director of communications Krystle Caputo in an email.

"This change also ensures that municipalities, and taxpayers, avoid unnecessary higher costs associated with a ranked ballot system."

Survey open until Aug. 31

Any information collected through the survey and the breakout ideas board will be used by city election staff, Tarling said.

"They'll be looking at this as part of our continuous improvement efforts to see how we can further improve the election experience for our voters, for the candidates and our election workers," she said.

"I'm hoping that people will take a few minutes to fill out the survey and have their voices heard to us with respect to how they might like to vote. In addition to that, there are other questions on the survey with respect to how we could further improve the election experience for people. So we just hope that people will take some time to be able to fill it out."

The Kitchener survey is open until Aug. 31.

Cambridge officials say there are plans to launch a survey on the Engage Cambridge website in the coming weeks.

The next municipal election is scheduled for October 24, 2022.

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