Essex undergoes election reform in hopes of restoring public faith
'Trust, integrity and ethics is still an issue in the municipality of Essex' says one councillor
Nearly two years after Essex County's controversial municipal election, city council approved another election reform policy that some hope will restore public trust.
A complaints policy, unanimously passed Tuesday, outlines the process of filing election-related concerns, including what complaints are valid, who the concern will go to and what the follow-up will look like. This bylaw is one of two that have been passed in recent weeks to tackle some of the issues encountered in the town's 2018 election.
Those issues led to an investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police which resulted in Mayor Larry Snively being charged. OPP allege he procured ineligible voters by misusing proxy voters to cast ballots.
The case has not yet gone to court.
The investigation was sparked by a number of complaints brought forward from residents and council members.
But that wasn't all that people voiced their concerns about.
The clerk running Essex's last election was overwhelmed with complaints related to the campaigning and voting process, the town's Ward 4 Counc. Sherry Bondy told CBC News Wednesday.
The bylaw, Bondy said, is just one piece of the puzzle in restoring the public's faith in the next election, but there's still work to be done.
"I think trust is still an issue. Trust, integrity and ethics is still an issue in the municipality of Essex," Bondy said. "Our people in our town, I work very hard to keep them engaged, but they don't feel listened to right now. So we do have a lot of voter apathy here."
The bylaw also looks at the use of election signage, the behaviour of staff at voting stations, candidates use of resources and whether the clerk's office, the police or the Ministry of Municipal Affairs should handle the issue.
"We don't have that solid foundation built on trust and ethics so, we can't go backwards but we can go forward and we can make sure it's right for the next election," Bondy said. "That is the foundation of democracy, that is our job and if we can't do that then we don't deserve to be on council."
Bondy said one concern she has with the new bylaw is that there is limited ability to enforce the rules, so she wants to see more election staff on polling days to bolster the enforcement capabilities.
"I've read emails where people specifically say they don't trust the process, I can understand why they would feel that way," Essex's Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche told CBC News. "As a council we want people to understand that we want the procedures to be right, we want people to have faith that the person that is being elected is being elected through an honest campaign and the right number of votes."
Meloche said that while this new policy is not related to the proxy issue encountered in the last election, they recently passed a policy specifically focused on proxys.
That bylaw, Meloche said, specifically prevents candidates from having a stack of proxy forms to hand out and get filled out in support of them. Instead, voters using the proxy system will need to call the town clerk and arrange it through them.