Trail council approves voting by mail in next election

With such low voter turnout at the last municipal election, council has agreed to move forward with voting by mail for certain residents.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

In the story Council approves voting by mail in next election (Trail Times, Oct. 23) there was incorrect information regarding curbside voting. Curbside voting is provided at the polling stations on advance voting days or general voting day. People with mobility issues can arrive at the polling station and remain in the vehicle.  When election staff is alerted of their desire to vote but that they can’t enter into the building to do so, staff will take the election supplies to the vehicle for them to cast their ballots.

With only 31 per cent of Trail residents turning up to vote in the last municipal election, council is looking at ways to give everyone the opportunity to cast a ballot in next year’s civic election.

With an estimated $1,500 cost, Trail council agreed to move forward with an amending bylaw to introduce mail ballot voting in November 2014.

In response to an increasing population of “snowbirds,” or residents who own property within the jurisdiction but are not present during the election, local governments have the option of instituting voting by mail.

“As our population gets older more people go away,” said Coun. Robert Cacchioni during the Oct. 15 governance and operations committee (GOC) meeting. “I think we should give those people opportunity to vote.”

The city currently allows for two advance voting opportunities, one held 10 days prior to the general voting and the other, three days before election day.

However, there remains a groups of citizens who leave town before those dates, and wish to have their say, according to Cacchioni.

“I have heard this from a few people and this is hinged on the fact that the election was supposed to be changed to October, but now that it is staying in November, there will be people who will have already left town.”

Michelle McIsaac, Trail’s corporate administrator and chief election officer, said there were few queries from electors unable to attend any of the established voting opportunities in the 2008 and 2011 general location elections, but she conceded that people who do leave town prior to Nov. 5, 2014, may not be able to cast a ballot.

Although proceeding with mail ballot voting would increase election costs by 10 per cent and add to the volume of work for city staff, McIsaac cited the town of Creston’s experience with the process in its previous election.

“Creston is the only municipality in our area that used mail ballot previously,” she explained. “In 2011 they issued 50 mail ballot packages and had 33 ballots returned.”

Trail’s last election was a close race, said Coun. Sean Mackinlay.

“Being a person that is on the three-point margin, the outcome could have been totally different with mail ballot voting in the last election,” he explained. “Even if we have only one ballot cast and it does cost $1,500 I think that is a fine price to pay,” Mackinlay continued. “In my mind, I don’t think there should be a cost on election and we need to make sure everyone is represented.”

McIsaac clarified that mail voting ballots will only be available for those with physical disability, illness or injury that affect the ability to vote at a scheduled voting opportunity, or for those who expect to be absent from the community during advance voting or general voting day.

“We want to encourage an increase in the voter turnout for the 2014 municipal elections,” she said. “It is not an option for those who would just prefer not to come to the voting station.”

The motion to proceed with voting by mail was carried unanimously but was followed with further discussion of voter apathy.

“To differentiate with respect to people leaving the area, I think the bigger concern is that people who are in your area don’t vote,” said David Perehudoff, chief administrative officer. “Wouldn’t you be more concerned about that than capturing 50 votes at a cost of $30 per vote, give or take,” he said, adding, “the issue you would want to study more directly is why people are sitting in Trail on the election date and not coming out (to vote.)”

Twenty-six year council member Gord DeRosa, replied that mail ballot voting is a “step in the right direction.”

“If you can’t impact what is going to happen in the community you live in, it hits home hard,” he said. “If you have opinions and like to vote, you shouldn’t be prevented.”

In addition to advance voting, Trail currently provides special voting opportunities on elections day at the regional hospital, Columbia View Lodge and Rosewood Village for patients and residents living in those facilities.

Curbside voting is provided at the polling stations on advance voting days or general voting day.  People with mobility issues can arrive at the polling station and remain in the vehicle.  When election staff are alerted of their desire to vote but that they can’t enter into the building to do so, staff will take the election supplies to the vehicle for them to cast their ballots.

The mail ballot voting process will include a secure package containing the ballot, a secrecy envelope to return the ballot, a certification envelope printed with spaces for the elector to record name, address and signed declaration, an outer envelope pre-printed with the return address of the city, and voting instructions.

“The most significant cost will be printing costs, so although the package will vary depending on how many requests we receive for ballot packages to be delivered, $1500 should cover it,” added McIsaac.

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