By Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative
Chatham-Kent is asking its residents to start thinking about the 2022 municipal election even though it is more than 18 months away.
Municipal staff recently launched an online survey asking residents about their preferred voting methods come Oct. 24, 2022 when the next election is set to take place.
According to Municipal Elections Act regulations, council has to implement the types of voting mechanisms it will be using through a bylaw that must be passed before this summer.
“And so before we go out for a Request for Proposal to the vendors, we thought we would go out and ask the Chatham-Kent voters what they would like to see for the upcoming election,” said Judy Smith, director, municipal governance.
Smith said the uncertainty of COVID-19 and what social distancing protocols might look like in late 2022 weren’t part of the reasoning for revisiting Chatham-Kent’s voting options although they may play a factor in the decisions made.
“Definitely with COVID and the protocols that are in place it certainly brings an idea of, ‘Should we be doing things differently and how can we ensure the public safety?’ But we also are reaching out just to find out how comfortable people are using different methods, the security of them, what’s their knowledge of them and are they comfortable using it.”
Options in the survey include paper ballots at in-person polling stations, Internet voting, mail-in ballots or voting by phone.
The latter two have never been implemented in Chatham-Kent and Internet voting was implemented for advance polls only.
Smith said phone-in voting would work much like Internet voting where residents would verify their identity through a pin which they would receive with their voter registration data.
In 2014, advance Internet voting yielded 7,330 voters and that number increased to 9,787 for the 2018 municipal elections. Early in-person voting with paper ballots also saw an uptick in voters for 2018.
Although 2018 saw a higher voter turnout than in 2014 – 45.44 per cent compared to 42.11 per cent – in-person same day voting saw a slight decline.
“Of course we always want to try to increase our voter turnout. And you know that is part of the reason for us to do the survey,” Smith said.
Some of the election fraud discourse coming out the United States, which has been disproven, has spilled over into Canada even on a municipal level, Smith said.
“I did hear some of that but we’ve done Internet voting the last two elections. We have no concern over that. We have high security standards and we do high-level testing with our IT very involved in the process.”
The survey will be ongoing until the end of March with a report going to council in the spring. To date it received more than 250 responses.