Some Durham communities move to online voting

Robyn Walter, assists with the advance voting at the Campus Ice Centre, Oct. 5. The City of Oshawa is using traditional paper ballots in this year's municipal election, but some communities have turned to digital voting. Photo credit: Morgan Kelly

Save the trees, stay home and vote – at least in some Durham communities it will work that way.

This year, some municipalities in the region are going digital with their voting process.

The Town of Ajax will go paperless for the second time in the Oct. 22 election. The first time was in 2014, when residents could vote online or by phone no matter where they were. The result? Voter turnout increased to 30.4 per cent from 25.4 per cent in 2010.

“We had been seeing a very steady decline year over year in turnout, and then to all of a sudden have a five per cent increase is very significant I think,” says Nicole Cooper, Ajax town clerk, while acknowledging she doesn’t know if the increase was due entirely to the move to internet voting, but she believes it was part of the reason.

From a security point, Cooper says Ajax put its voting service provider through rigorous vetting before deciding to use it.

“We don’t choose a provider unless their security, frankly, rivals that of, you know, internet banking security,” she says. Cooper also says the cost of internet and telephone voting is about the same as traditional paper ballots, because one cost, such as paying workers at the polls, is replaced with another cost, like paying workers to run the voter assistance centres for residents who don’t have access to a computer.

Pickering will also introduce online and telephone voting for the first time this municipal election.

Further east, however, they’re sticking to traditional paper ballots. Whitby and Oshawa have no plans to go digital.

But Whitby has tried digital voting in the past.

Lorne Coe resigned as regional councillor in 2016 after being elected Whitby-Oshawa MPP in the Feb. 11 provincial by-election. Whitby then conducted an online and telephone by-election that same year to replace Whitby north ward Councillor Derrick Gleed after he was appointed to replace Coe.

Chris Harris, town clerk of Whitby, says the use of electronic voting proved successful, with a 98 per cent satisfaction rate amongst Whitby voters.

Electronic voting was considered for use in this year’s municipal election, but council ended up voting against it, citing safety and security worries.

Oshawa’s city clerk, Andrew Brouwer, says the city has considered internet voting in the past, but it has not been implemented. He believes the decision most likely has to do with security fears. Ultimately though, the decision on voting methods is up to council, Brouwer adds.

He says Oshawa council didn’t want to introduce a new ward system and new voting methods to residents at once.

“We felt that introducing both internet voting, i.e. a change in the voting method, and the ward might be a bit overwhelming,” says Brouwer.

The current council was elected at large instead of by wards like they’re doing this year.

– with files from Morgan Kelly