The Toronto Star, Nov. 12, 2014
Ajax residents had it easy in the latest municipal election. They could simply click and vote. And yet only 30.4 per cent of them did.
At first glance, one could call the election results a disappointment. But Nicole Wellsbury, manager of legislative services and deputy clerk, said the turnout was up significantly from years past.
“I know it doesn’t sound great, but for Ajax that is quite good,” she said. “It’s our most substantial increase in quite a while.”
In 2006, Ajax had a dismal 23-per-cent voter turnout. It was 26 per cent in 2010. “The fact that we saw a 4.5 (percentage-point) increase this year is, to me, a huge success,” said Wellsbury.
Ajax was the first municipality in the GTA to hold a completely paperless election, trading in paper ballots for the convenience of voting online. Across the province, 97 municipalities use some form of online voting. But Ajax was unique in offering polling stations where voters could only cast their ballot online.
Wellsbury said that despite the new technology, there were few hiccups on Election Day. “I was surprised things went so smoothly,” she said.
Residents had the option of voting online (92 per cent did) or by phone (8 per cent) for over a week prior to the election. Of the 70 per cent who voted at home, there were few complaints.
But 30 per cent opted to come to a polling station on election day, where there were a few common issues: long lineups, late additions to the voters list and slow Internet connections.
Because latecomers to the polling stations had to be added to the list, the results were delayed.
“That went on until 8:45, so we couldn’t get our results out at 9 o’clock,” said Wellsbury.
“We took a lot of criticism for that, but this system allowed us to have all of our results at once as opposed to a poll at a time.”
Next election there will be a bigger publicity push to get more people to vote from home.
“We are hoping the split will be 80-20 or even 90-10 next time,” she said, adding the number is achievable if residents simply open their mail.
“People got the voter letter in the mail and never opened it or read it,” she said. “We had tons of people at the polling stations saying, ‘What do you mean I didn’t have to come here?’ We were like, ‘Just read the letter.'”
According to Intelivote, the company that ran the online election for Ajax, 87 per cent of the people who voted online used a computer, 8 per cent used a tablet and 5 per cent used a smartphone. Less than 1 per cent used a device such as an iPod.
The online vote also gave Ajax a higher voter turnout than neighbouring municipalities such as Oshawa and Whitby, both at 26 per cent.
Wellsbury said Ajax plans to debrief other Durham Region clerks this month and share its experience with other municipalities.
“Generally we had a huge success here and people see that,” she said. “I am hoping that in 2018, we will see more municipalities going to this model because it is really the way to go.”
Reproduced from http://www.pressdisplay.com/pressdisplay/viewer.aspx