Kenora opts for online voting in hopes of boosting turnout

The campaigning is over, and today voters in the northwest go to the polls to elect new municipal councils.

But one expert says little is known about how the digital option impacts voter behaviour

A total of 414 Ontario municipalities are running local elections this fall — 97 of which are offering internet voting as an option. (CBC)

The campaigning is over, and today voters in the northwest go to the polls to elect new municipal councils.

But how will all those votes be counted?

In Kenora, voters are making their choices online, or over the phone.

City clerk and returning officer Heather Kasprick said the outgoing council decided electronic voting offers many advantages over paper ballots.

City of Kenora city clerk and returning officer Heather Kasprick says the outgoing council decided electronic voting offers many advantages over paper ballots. (Supplied)
“Election results are much faster. Others are a matter of convenience. They don't have to leave their home. They can do it right from their home,” she said.

“If you don't go online, everyone has a telephone. It was just time for a change.”

Kasprick said she hopes the shift to online voting will boost voter turnout. In 2010, a total of 58 per cent of voters cast ballots. She hopes that number will jump to 70 per cent, with the help of online voting.

“It's as simple as turning on your computer, or going on your smartphone or dialing a phone number and you can vote from anywhere you are, anywhere in the world.”

'Not going to fix voter apathy'

More Ontarians than ever have been able to cast ballots in this year’s municipal election, but one expert says little is known about how the digital option impacts voter behaviour.

Nicole Goodman is the research director at the Centre for e-Democracy. (Supplied)
“There is evidence that indicates that it will encourage people to vote who are too busy to vote, or they're sick, or they're away from home, or they have mobility issues, but we'll get a really good sense in this election," said Nicole Goodman, research director at the centre for e-democracy in Toronto.

"I can tell you for sure that it's not going to fix voter apathy. So all of those people that say they don't vote because of disinterest, because they don't like the candidates, because they just don't care about politics, it's not going to encourage those types of people to vote.”

Goodman said 97 Ontario municipalities are offering internet or telephone voting, including Kenora, Greenstone and Shuniah, in northwestern Ontario.

Counting by hand not as expensive in Sioux Lookout

Brian MacKinnon, assistant returning officer and deputy clerk for Sioux Lookout. (Supplied)
Over in Sioux Lookout, the town's assistant returning officer Brian MacKinnon said it will take slightly longer to get results because they will still be counting ballots by hand. It could take two or three hours to get unofficial results.

He said Sioux Lookout opted for a manual count because voting machines are expensive.

“We didn't feel that it would be an appropriate use of tax payers’ dollars to rent the machines for one day at the cost that was being asked.”

People have been hired to count, but that is still less expensive than renting machines, he added.

MacKinnon noted it's too early to tell if they'll stick with manual voting for elections in the future.

"We'll do a debrief and an assessment of this election and get a sense of what worked well and what we can do better in 2018,” he said.

There are 3,177 voters on Sioux Lookout’s voters list, and MacKinnon said they expect roughly a 50 per cent voter turnout.

In Thunder Bay, where there are almost 82,000 eligible voters, city council rejected the idea of online voting when it was proposed last year.

Polling stations are open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.