Despite point of order, Essex council moves ahead with tightened proxy vote measures
Councillors expressed concern new measures could lead to lower voter turnout
With Essex, Ont., council supporting a new set of rules that would see tightened voting measures for those authorizing others to cast their vote in the town's upcoming elections, concerns are being raised it could negatively affect voter turnout in future elections.
One councillor even raised a point of order during a discussion over why such measures were needed in the first place — after Mayor Larry Snively told Coun. Sherry Bondy "you better watch what you're saying."
Bondy was among the first voices calling for tighter rules after fraud charges were laid against Snively alleging voter fraud in the 2018 municipal election — charges that have not been proven in court. Snively's next court date is May 28.
To get a proxy in prior elections, a voter would have needed only to fill out their information and sign the form after their appointed proxy had done the same. There is also an oral oath taken before the proxy votes.
In fact, when CBC News obtained and examined 94 of the proxies filed, 31 of the forms were incorrectly filled but still signed-off on by the clerk.
Under the new process approved at Monday's council meeting, anyone who wants someone else to vote for them must obtain a form from the clerk's office in person or by mail.
Then, the proxy has to bring that form — which has a serial number on it — and a piece of ID belonging to the person who they are casting votes for to the clerk's office.
"So proxy forms that have not been issued and assigned a number from the clerk's office will not be accepted. No exceptions," said town clerk Robert Auger.
The discussion took a tense turn when Bondy said the town "clearly had an issue" recording votes in the 2018 election.
"There may be a handful of people that might not be able to vote because it's too many steps. But in the last election, we had people with dementia. We had seniors. We had widows. We had minorities — who frankly got duped into signing a form by other people," she said.
So proxy forms that have not been issued and assigned a number from the clerk's office will not be accepted. No exceptions.- Town clerk Robert Auger on the proxy voting process moving forward
"Let's pass these policies and get them in place so that our staff, our council and our community never have to go through them again."
Bondy's comments ended when she challenged her fellow councillors to read emails that, she said, expressed strong concerns with the election process — prompting a response from Snively.
"One day, I'll show you the letter I have stating you accused me of different things. I'll show you that and the media will have a copy of it too. So councillor Bondy — you better watch what you're saying," he said. Watch the exchange in the video below:
During the meeting, Coun. Chris Vander Doelen shared his concerns with people possibly being discouraged from voting by proxy because of additional steps being added to the ballot-casting process.
"I can't really vote against it. But I guess we'll find out next election," Vander Doelen said. "If the number of proxies cast here in Essex falls to close to zero, then I would rate that this change has been a failure."
But if voters require "special accommodations" to cast their vote, Auger said, the town would consider measures like accepting proxy forms outside of standard office hours or assisting people who have trouble using technology.
Council also approved forwarding its new proxy voting model to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) so it can be reviewed and possibly adopted by other regions.