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No Paper Ballots for Cobourg

August 10, 2010

The Town of Cobourg was so pleased with how electronic voting went in the 2006 election that only cellphone and Internet options will be offered this fall’s municipal election.

With Community Access Program sites, travelling touch-screen machines for such institutions as nursing homes, widespread ownership of cellphones and computers and the fact that there’s a week-long voting period instead of a single voting day, the option appears feasible for all.

Add to that the fact that it eliminates line-ups and inconvenience in favour of voting from virtually anywhere and, according to retired municipal clerk
Rick Stinson, it resulted in a 10% increase in voter turnout in 2006.

The accessibility factor is also of great importance to the Province of Ontario, Intelivote Systems Inc. vice-president of business development Stephen
Beamish added.

Beamish related how 2006 Cobourg candidate had spoken with an elderly couple with mobility issues while campaigning. They had missed three prior municipal elections, but were able to vote in that one.

The announcement Monday at Victoria Hall featured municipal clerk Lorraine Brace explaining how the voting process would work in Cobourg and Beamish detailing the security and accountability mechanisms built into the Dartmouth-based Intelivote system.

The 2006 Cobourg election was one of the first electoral engagements for Intelivote, Beamish said. Since then, they have handled municipal elections in
Nova Scotia and the United Kingdom, as well as elections for unions and other governmental and private organizations.

The results have been astonishing, he said.

Soldiers based in Dartmouth but stationed in Afghanistan were able to cast a ballot. Britons away on vacation could vote nonetheless. In the Stewiacke,
NS, election, 2008 voter turnout doubled to 72% over the previous election. Challenges posed by weather and a busy schedule became virtually irrelevant.

Other benefits of online and cellphone voting he listed included immediate auditable results, the elimination of spoiled ballots for a more democratic outcome, the lessened cost to the environment (14 metric tonnes of saved carbon emission for the 2008 Halifax election, Dalhousie University calculated) and the lessened cost to municipalities in such things as printing expenses and hall rentals.

The town will be mailing a voter-information letter to each registered voter with instructions on how and when he or she can cast a ballot, a personal identification number, the website and toll-free number for voting, and the list of candidates — timed to arrive during the voting period from 10 a.m. Oct. 18 through 8 p.m. Oct. 25.

Those logging on to the website can choose English or French. They enter the PIN and, screen by screen, vote for candidates. They are asked to confirm their choices and have the option to revisit and change any vote, as well as to skip voting for school-board trustee if they wish.

Similarly, those calling the special number can choose English or French, enter the PIN and hear their choices one race at a time. When they enter a number signifying their candidates, they confirm by pressing #. They are asked to reconfirm and press # again.

The program can accommodate interruptions, such as dropped cellphone calls or having to abandon a computer log-in for an emergency. With the PIN, they can recall or relog, and resume where they left off. Anyone experiencing difficulties can call the local voter help line. The program does not cache screens or leave cookies, so voter choices on computer are untraceable, Beamish added. With some of the money saved, Brace said, an educational program will be launched. She particularly hopes to appeal to voters aged 18 to
34. Pamphlets printed in-house are now available, and instructions have been posted on the town’s website. As well, she is hoping demonstrations of the
process can be staged at the Cobourg Public Library and Northumberland Mall.

Don Ubell of the town’s accessibility-advisory committee gave the scheme his own thumbs-up. “You have solved the blind problem, you have solved the I-can’t-get-in problem, which I experienced when I moved into town,” Ubell said. “Brilliant!”

Article ID# 2705616

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