Sudbury moves to digital-only voting system for 2018 city election

City council decided earlier this week to bring in an all-electronic voting system for the 2018 municipal and school board elections. This means people can vote online in advance polls and on election day. It also means voters will mark their ballot on tablets in polling stations across the city.

Councillors debate whether saving cash is more important than voting experience


You won't have to risk a paper cut while voting in Sudbury's next municipal election.

Earlier this week, city council was asked to choose between two different voting systems for the 2018 municipal and school board elections.

The first option was online only for both advance polls and election day. The second option was the same, but with physical polling stations on election day where voters would cast their ballot on a computer.

Both systems mean saying goodbye to paper voting.

Electronic votes ruin experience, says councillor

Many councillors raised concerns for Sudbury's aging population, saying many of them might be uncomfortable with technology. 

"It's taken away a little of the prestige of voting," said Coun. Robert Kirwan. "Voting in an election is precious and it has been precious for decades, especially to a lot of our older adults. I would hate to see that taken away."

Other councillors agreed, saying taking away paper voting would be "disrespectful." Others, like Coun. Montpellier, questioned online voting altogether.

"Who comes up with this stuff?" Montpellier asked. "People want to go and vote in person. Where's this outcry coming from? From Ward 3, it's a social day. People love to go to this thing."

City hoping to re-create 'traditional' voting experience

Kevin Fowke is the general manager of corporate services for the city of Greater Sudbury. He says the plan was to initially have electronic voting for advance polls and a paper system on election day. But when the price tag came close to $1 million, Fowke says a digital-only system was the financially smart choice. 
Greater Sudbury's Director of Human Resources Kevin Fowke presented information to city council last week about a rise in mental health leave among city employees. (Yvon Theriault/CBC)

"We're sensitive to the fact that for some, the use of a computer is a bit daunting. We would work with people in communications and with IT to make this experience as much like going to a traditional voting location as much as we possibly could," says Fowke. 

Information technology employees will be around on election day to ensure the system doesn't crash and that voters have a good experience, Fowke said.

"The most important thing on October 22, 2018 will be running a good, smooth election for citizens."

Method of voting not the point

The city first introduced online voting in advance polls during the 2014 election. Coun. Rene Lapierre says experimenting with more online voting wouldn't take away the experience of the democratic process.

"Whether they put their X on a tablet or they put their X on a piece of paper, we're not infringing on anybody's right because everybody still has the right to vote," Lapierre said.

Council voted to have electronic polling stations, striking a balance between cost-savings and the desire for traditional voting.

The next municipal election will be October of 2018.