Puslinch council approves vote-by-mail option for 2022 municipal election

PUSLINCH – Council here has approved “on demand” mail-in voting as an alternative method of voting in the 2022 municipal election.

Township staff will prepare a bylaw to formally be approved at the July 14 council meeting.

The use of optical scanning vote tabulators will be included in the bylaw.

Vote by mail “on demand” means this alternative voting method would be available to eligible voters who request a ballot.

In-person voting would still be an option as well if the bylaw is passed.

In the 2018 municipal election, the township used optical scanning vote tabulators and voting took place in person.

A report from township staff noted in 2018 approximately 75 per cent of Ontario municipalities utilized an alternative voting method.

More municipalities are moving to technology-based methods in addition to in-person voting – or eliminating in-person voting altogether.

Township staff also noted the pandemic has revealed the importance of providing alternative methods of voting that do not require in-person attendance.

The report outlined some of the advantages to a vote-by-mail option, including:

  • offering a remote option for voters, which would address hesitation people may have regarding COVID-19 and physical distancing;
  • increasing access for voters;
  • providing convenience for voters as it would not require them to take time away from work or personal commitments to vote; and
  • neutralizing external factors such as inclement weather that would normally be a deterrent to voting in person.

Councillor Sara Bailey questioned why online voting could not be made available to Puslinch residents.

“Due to COVID, everyone’s now in this digital format,” Bailey said.

“It might be a good opportunity to introduce a digital alternative. It’s not like you’re uploading or downloading or doing a lot of streaming, it’s just a simple vote.”

CAO Glenn Schwendinger said online voting is something the township will be looking to move to in the near future.

“That is an option that we ultimately want to look at,” he said.

“It does have some benefits in terms of making it easier for people to vote at different times. It has been shown to increase voter turnout in some municipalities.”

Schwendinger said the township made the decision to go forward with voting by mail instead of online voting in 2022 because of connectivity issues in a number of areas in the municipality.

“We’re kind of thinking next election would be a good time to do that,” he said on the online option.

“Right now, we didn’t want to put a new process in place, and then have people not be able to use it.”

Councillor Matthew Bulmer favoured a vote-by-mail option over online voting.

“I think (vote by mail) is the best alternative to use,” Bulmer said.

“Connectivity issues aside, the security of online voting does not pass my sniff test when I see banks and credit card companies and large computer companies being hacked. I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”

Councillor John Sepulis suggested adding drop-off locations for voters to submit their ballots.

“I know that some residents would prefer to drop it off, and I was wondering if it’s possible to have a drop-off box for mail-in for those individuals who prefer not to use the postal system,” he said.

Clerk Courtenay Hoytfox confirmed the township will look into adding drop-off locations once the vote-by-mail option is formally approved.

All members of council were in favour of voting by mail and the bylaw is likely to pass at the July 14 council meeting.