COVID-19 top of mind for N.S. municipalities as they prep for fall elections
How to ensure physical distancing and whether to use more e-voting are some considerations
Municipalities across Nova Scotia are trying to figure out the best way to safely hold this fall's municipal elections during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Elections for municipal representatives and school board officials for Conseil scolaire acadien provincial are set for Oct. 17, and additional considerations are being given to things such as e-voting and how to ensure proper physical distancing is practised.
The Municipality of Pictou County has eliminated the paper ballot and will only offer internet and phone options for voting. Chief administrative officer Brian Cullen said setting up traditional polling stations for paper ballots is just not practical.
"The only true way to ensure social distancing was to eliminate the public contact," he said.
For the first time ever, the Municipality of District of Lunenburg will have electronic voting during the advance polls, but only paper ballots on election day because of the rural nature of many of the districts.
"We chose not to do the internet voting on election day due to the difficulties in obtaining necessary high-speed internet at each of the polling stations," said Mayor Carolyn Bolivar-Getson.
If e-voting was also taking place on election day, the polling stations would need internet access so poll workers could ensure voters weren't also voting online or on the phone.
Bolivar-Getson said extra polling stations may be needed to help ensure physical distancing is practised.
In 2016, Dartmouth, N.S.-based Intellivote Systems Inc. provided electronic voting for 24 municipalities in Nova Scotia.
Now, company CEO Dean Smith said around 38 municipalities have either decided to use his system or are considering it. Smith said municipal officials told him they are worried about not being able to find enough poll workers, given that most of them are usually seniors, who are concerned about COVID-19.
Some municipalities have not yet decided what procedures will work best.
"We probably have to look at electronic, but whether it's totally electronic or a hybrid of paper and electronic has yet to be determined," said Westville Mayor Lennie White.
Some small towns may just buy cleaning supplies and personal protective gear and stick with the same paper ballot procedures.
At a May council meeting for the Town of Lockeport, clerk/treasurer Joyce Young told councillors that municipalities "are not required" to offer an alternative form of voting.
There are concerns about the extra expense of holding elections during a pandemic, particularly if there is a second wave in the fall and the polling day in October is postponed until the spring.
The Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities wants financial help from the province if that happens.
"One unit plans to spend $300,000 [on election preparations]," said federation president Pam Mood. "That's not just a little bit of money, especially when we're counting on every penny that we have right now."
Municipalities across from the province have been hit hard financially by the pandemic.
The federation has set up a committee to come up with guidelines for election procedures, including how to handle postponement.
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