Survey says: paper ballots in next election not dead yet

Troy Shantz

Sarnia councillors are still at odds about whether to use paper ballots in next year’s municipal election.

They recently requested a staff report on the feasibility of adding the option of paper ballots, but having them counted by volunteers instead of costly tabulating machines.

Council had earlier agreed to use Internet-only voting for the 2022 election, based largely an estimated savings of $200,000.

Michelle Parks, who was part of an election committee appointed by council, requested the Internet-and-paper hybrid model at the March 22 meeting.

“I realize that $200,000 sounds like an awful lot of money, but when you put it into perspective, it’s very minimal considering the percentage of eligible voters that prefer voting in the traditional paper ballot way,” she told council.

“I just don’t want those people’s voices not to be heard.”

In a public survey last year, 255 respondents said they favoured Internet voting, 247 wanted traditional paper ballots at polling stations, and 146 liked mail-in ballots.

Supporting a new staff report were councillors Nathan Colquhoun, Mike Stark, George Vandenberg, Brian White and Terry Burrell.

Opposed were Mayor Mike Bradley, Coun Margaret Bird, and Coun. Bill Dennis, who had proposed adoption of the hybrid model.

City Clerk Amy Burkhart said paper ballots can be tabulated by hand, but the results might not be timely.

“We have no way, really, to predict how many people will actually cast a vote using a paper ballot,” she said. “For accuracy, I do recommend vote counting equipment.”

Sarnia first tried electronic voting in the 2018, when residents used the Internet and telephones to select a mayor, councillors and school trustees.

A few locations were set up to provide in-person assistance to anyone uncertain about the technology.

Voter turnout rose to 48.9% from 37.1%, the highest in more than two decades.

A follow-up survey found 83% were satisfied with the process.

Though no evidence of anything suspicious in the last election has surfaced, councillors Dennis and Bird say online voting remains vulnerable to tampering.

“It definitely does not offer safety and confidentiality without any risks, and that is something the voters deserve and we must provide for them,” Bird said.

Dennis said the strong voter turnout was a response to the previous council.

“Bottom line – the majority of the public wanted change on council and expressed this with their vote, despite the fact that they wanted paper ballots,” he said.

“Some citizens have told me they believe this a way to put your finger on the scale. We do not want our citizens to feel our democracy is being manipulated.”