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Mail-in Votes Spell End to Ballot Boxes in Essex County

By Gary Rennie, The Windsor StarJanuary 1, 2010

For the first time, every municipality in Essex County will use vote by mail rather than traditional ballot boxes at multitudes of polling stations during the 2010 municipal election.

Essex, Amherstburg and LaSalle were the final three municipalities to endorse vote-by-mail.

Only LaSalle had much of a debate on the issue, with a final 4-3 vote in favour.

Higher turnouts, quicker results from electronic tabulators, and easier elections to manage are key reasons for the switch.

Municipalities with vote by mail more often get turnouts of 50 per cent or more. Traditional ballot box voting is typically in the 30 to 40 per cent turnout range.

LaSalle Deputy Mayor Bill Varga was swayed by the convenience of vote by mail for retirees who may be travelling south in late October or for physically disabled voters.

Essex Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche also thought vote by mail made voting more accessible.

Linda Saxon, vice chairwoman of the Essex County Accessibility Advisory Committee, says politicians have to consider more than just vote by mail as the solution for disabled voters.

Multiple methods of voting — including some traditional polling stations — can reach more people, she says.

Candidates’ election materials, websites and media advertising should also be in forms that are accessible to more voters, Saxon says.

When candidates’ debates are organized, some thought should be given to making the venues accessible and advertising that fact, she says.

Leamington has run three municipal elections with vote by mail, the most of any county municipality.

“I believe the greatest increase (in voters) is among younger and middle aged people who are all very busy and they appreciate the convenience (of vote by mail),” says Leamington clerk Brian Sweet.

“The more convenient we make the election, the higher the turnout,” he says.

Costs of elections are about the same as rental rates for electronic tabulators eat up the savings from finding, training and paying temporary polling station staff.

Amherstburg Deputy Mayor Bob Bailey was surprised the cost of renting tabulators was so high — upwards of $15,000 — about a third of the cost of the election.

County municipal elections typically cost $40,000 to $50,000 in total.

With seven municipalities now committed to vote by mail, Sweet says some additional costs savings could come for all by from renting tabulators from the same supplier and sharing the company’s support staff.

It’s necessary to have a backup tabulator in case of a breakdown on Election Day, Sweet says.

But Kingsville and Leamington have shared the cost of a backup tabulator in the past, and this could be done by other municipalities, he says.

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