Sudbury

Greater Sudbury election candidates troubled by 'creative ways to subvert voting process'

The City of Greater Sudbury’s first all-electronic municipal election is raising some questions about how hands-on those running for office should be when it comes to helping residents exercise their right to vote.

City says candidates should encourage residents to use official voter help centres if assistance is needed

A number of candidates running in Greater Sudbury's election have been offering to bring wireless devices or laptops directly to residents to help them vote. The practice irks at least one mayoral candidate. (Benjamin Aubé/CBC)

Political candidates offering to transport potential constituents to polling stations during election time is a practice that's been around as long as elections themselves.

But the City of Greater Sudbury's first all-electronic municipal election is raising some questions about how hands-on those running for office should be when it comes to helping residents vote.

Though residents with their information cards and PINs can cast their ballots from anywhere with an electronic device and internet access, the city also currently has 14 different voter help centres at local libraries and city hall.

Those locations have computers set up and staff on site to assist those without personal access to the necessary technology. The help centres will be open and accessible during regular business hours until and including October 21.

The City's Election Bus has also been making stops in various neighbourhoods.

Twenty-three electronic voting locations will be open throughout the city on election day, on October 22.

However, that hasn't stopped some candidates from offering to have campaign workers travel with mobile electronic devices or laptops to residents requesting the service.

Mayoral candidate Dan Melanson said he and his campaign workers have been hearing from voters frustrated about a lack of in-person voting options.

"If [voters] need a ride to the advance poll or to get their voter registration, we will arrange a ride. If they wish to vote at home and do not have access to a computer we will arrange for a volunteer to attend at their house to provide them with access to a laptop and help walk them through the process," stated Melanson.

"It's just too bad that the city did not see fit to have a hybrid voting system, at least for this and the next couple of election cycles, to allow for an easy transition to a fully paperless voting system.

"By not doing so they have alienated, and potentially disenfranchised a large group of senior voters and I suspect that will show in the voter turnout this time around."

Ward 4 council candidate Geoff McCausland has organized daily voter help sessions at a local restaurant in the Donovan neighbourhood.

Campaign workers for Ward 4 council candidate Geoff McCausland have put up posters displaying dates and times for sessions at a local restaurant. The poster reads: "Community volunteers will be there to help you vote" in Greater Sudbury's municipal election. (Benjamin Aubé/CBC)

Incumbent mayor Brian Bigger said his campaigners are also offering to travel and provide "wireless technology" at people's homes to "ensure every person has access to the City of Greater Sudbury's new online voting platform."

"I know the new online voting is a step toward modernizing the voting process in Sudbury," said Bigger, whose council approved the move to a fully online voting system in June 2017.

"But I am concerned that some of our older adults may feel left out of the process, or those without access to the internet or wireless technologies might miss out on their chance to be heard."

'Creative ways to subvert process'

Mayoral candidate Cody Cacciotti said he's disturbed by such practices.

"My campaign will not be bringing devices to voters' homes under the pretense of 'helping them vote,'" stated Cacciotti. "This practice is too easily misconstrued as an attempt to influence voters.

"This [Elections Act] was created to ensure a fair vote, it was not created so that candidates could find creative ways to subvert the voting process."

Fellow hopefuls Bill Crumplin, Patricia Mills and Jeff Huska said they're also against the idea.

"It leaves too much room for manipulating someone's vote even if that was never the original intention," said Huska. "The last thing I'd want post-election is someone claiming a volunteer on my team acted inappropriately and swayed a vote."

Mills added that, "It's much simpler to organize rides to local libraries where voters can be assisted by city staff administering the vote. People are used to that model, and there is no risk to the sanctity of the ballot. It makes our team and our voters more comfortable."

Cacciotti noted the province must look at updating the Municipal Elections Act to reflect the growing trend of electronic voting.

It currently states that "while an elector is in a voting place, no person shall attempt, directly or indirectly, to influence how the elector votes."

However, when asked specifically about electronic voting, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs replied, "You may wish to speak with the municipal clerk about whether the municipality's policy and procedures address whether a candidate may bring electronic devices to electors' residences in order to help them vote."

City spokesperson Shannon Dowling said the city is directed by the Municipal Elections Act. She confirmed the act doesn't prevent candidates from bringing devices to voters' doors, as long as there is no attempt to influence someone's vote.

But Dowling added the city strongly encourages candidates to direct residents to the numerous official voting centres open throughout the city in order to avoid any interactions that could potentially influence someone's vote.

Election bus an option

Sudbury voter Pat Poirier used the assistance provided on the city's election bus to cast her ballot earlier this week.

"I don't do computers," explained Poirier. "I know it's sad to say, but that's just the way it is. I don't care. I like to talk to people face-to-face."

The City of Greater Sudbury's Election Bus will continue to be parked in various neighbourhoods up to and including Saturday. (Benjamin Aubé/CBC)

Once officials on site walked her through the process on the computer, she said voting was quick and easy.

"It's just the fact that it was close by [that was convenient] and I did get the help I needed," noted Poirier. "They helped me get through it basically, and that's it, it's good, but next time it will be a lot easier."

However, she admitted she's not sure she'll be any more computer savvy come the next election in four years.

"I'll have to see what options are available at the time," said Poirier.

About the Author

Benjamin Aubé is a journalist based out of Sudbury. If you have a story you'd like to share, email him at benjamin.aube@cbc.ca