Municipalities to offer more polling stations, electronic voting

STRAIT AREA: Two more local municipalities have introduced hybrid voting systems for the upcoming municipal election during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In the 2016 municipal election, officials in the Town of Antigonish introduced electronic voting, alongside traditional paper ballots. Given the current environment, Mayor Laurie Boucher said it is important to offer their residents both options.

“The idea is to make it convenient for people to vote; we live in a true democracy, we want as many people to vote as possible,” she said. “If some people have the ability to vote because of e-voting, well that’s great.”

During the last election, Boucher said e-voting was made available for the first time, for almost a week prior to the election, and did increase participation.

This time around, town officials are also considering additional measures by putting extra money into their budget to add additional polling stations and extend advanced voting.

Boucher noted town staff have come up with some ideas of their own, while also having guidance from their provincial counterparts.

“There were a few suggestions in a letter back from the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities,” she said. “One of them being – extra polling stations – so we don’t have long line-ups, long waits, or many people gathering.”

Boucher said their goal is to reduce the risk of potential community spread of COVID-19, while also encouraging more residents to participate in the democratic process.

Councillors in the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) approved a first reading of a by-law to introduce phone and electronic voting during their regular municipal council meeting on June 17.

Following the meeting, Warden Vernon Pitts said it will be a significant change for some of their residents.

“The e-voting might scare some of them off, but you can do it over the phone,” he said. “It’s a great option. I think a lot of our residents will use that, as long as you have your identification number.”

In-person voting will still be available, but that will also look different. There won’t be traditional paper ballots, instead voters throughout MODG will see polling stations set up with kiosks and touch pads.

Pitts said he expects these changes will improve voter participation substantially, but the voters’ list won’t be updated before the election due to restrictions implemented by COVID-19.

“We have major concern in regards to numerations, we have to go on numerations from a number of years ago,” he said. “Those, at the best of times, were not really up to date, so I don’t know what we’re going to be facing this time.”

Pitts added the municipality has been told by provincial officials that anyone will be able to vote with the proper identification.

Second and final reading is expected to take place at July’s regular council meeting next month.

Municipal elections are scheduled to be held on October 17 across the province.