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Voting changes on hold for now

Council approves report in principle until costs determined

Vaughan councillors agree a report by the city’s task force on democratic participation and renewal is both progressive and practical.

But the overall response by Vaughan’s council members to the report’s 16 recommendations was lukewarm.

Council accepted the report in principle at a committee meeting Tuesday, though questions were raised.

The culmination of two years’ work by the task force, the report contains 16 recommendations aimed at boosting voter turnout in Vaughan’s municipal elections to 50 percent in 2010.

“When more than 60 percent of eligible voters don’t participate in the process, something is broken,” task force co-chair Steven Del Duca told councillors. “When less that 40 percent of that same pool have the interest or find the time to exercise what may be the most fundamental democratic right that we have as citizens, something needs to be fixed.”

The recommendations in the report include introducing secure Internet voting, providing a tax rebate to individuals for campaign contributions, cutting out the current practice of using leftover money from previous campaigns, providing more information about candidates and the election, and asking candidates to make public campaign contributions as they receive them.

Recommendations by the Task Force on Democratic Participation and Renewal:

1. Make Internet voting available as long as it’s completely secure.

2. Enact a bylaw to make campaign donations from individuals eligible for tax rebates as allowed by the Municipal Elections Act.

3. Ask Queen’s Park to amend the Municipal Elections Act to prohibit the use of campaign funds raised from past elections.

4. Open polling stations earlier on election day so commuters can vote on their way to work and ask the Ministry of Municipal Affairs to revisit the requirement that polls close at 8 p.m.

5. Up the number of advance voting days to seven and promote them collectively as Advance Voting Week.

6. Use an electronic voting list during the advance voting period if the technology is secure.

7. Use alternative voting locations like shopping malls and libraries during Advance Voting Week so voters can cast a ballot in a public place perceived as more mainstream than traditional polling locations.

8. Expand the information available about candidates on the city’s website. This could include a brief bio or other background info, and would be voluntarily submitted by the candidate.

9. Update the election logo and launch a sustained public relations campaign during the length of the election to make sure relevant info gets to voters.

10. Make sure there’s enough money in the budget to adequately advertise the election in city and external publications.

11. Use mobile signs to advertise non-partisan election information around the city.

12. Use social media like Facebook and Twitter to spread the word about the election. Provide streaming and on-demand webcasts of content like all-candidate debates.

13. Invest more money to get election information materials to the same level of quality as other city brochures.

14. Rename the city’s five wards to: Ward 1 – Maple/Kleinburg; Ward 2 – Woodbridge West; Ward 3 – Woodbridge East; Ward 4 – Concord/Carrville; and Ward 5 – Thornhill.

15. Use the city’s community centres as drop-in spots for meet-and-greets with candidates.

16. Ask each candidate to voluntarily disclose campaign contributions they receive via their campaign website in real-time during the election.

Though every council member in attendance expressed support for the report, several voiced concerns over the ultimate hit to the city’s coffers of implementing the recommendations.

The costs of providing tax rebates to campaign donors have been small in municipalities that currently do so, Del Duca said. And, he added, the task force’s recommendation is limited to rebating individuals and not corporations, which the task force found paid out the majority of contributions.

The city clerk’s office is looking into how much implementing all or some of the recommendations might cost and will report back to council.

Del Duca asked councillors not to get distracted from the nut of the report. For changes to be made to the 2010 election, the recommendations need to be adopted by January.

“Given the time that we’re dealing with, how much time is left in this calendar year, it behooves all of us to try to move as expeditiously as possible,” he said. “There’s a lot in this report. Almost all of it, if not all of it, that falls within our destiny to control and I think we shouldn’t miss that opportunity.”

As for Internet voting, councillors agreed more research has to be done.

Markham, which implemented online voting in 2003, was held up as a success story by the task force.

Regional Councillor Gino Rosati asked Del Duca if Internet voting increased voter turnout in the neighbouring municipality.

“My understanding is that voter turnout did go up in Markham,” Del Duca replied. “It’s hard, I think, to statistically demonstrate that it’s directly as a result of Internet voting or other technology: some might argue it’s coincidental, some might argue it is because of the new technology.”

Rosanna DeFrancesca, president of the East Woodbridge Community Association, said she supported the report but wasn’t thrilled with the idea of online voting.

Instead, she said, she’d like to see the city adopt a photo ID verification system at the ballot box and manual vote counting.

She’s not alone. DeFrancesca gave councillors a petition signed by people who agree with her.

“Every person who read this petition signed this petition,” she said. “In total, I have collected almost 100 signatures and yet have to find one proponent of Internet voting.”

Now that councillors have received the report from the task force, it will be sent to other municipalities and the provincial Municipal Affairs Ministry, and details will be hammered out ahead of a final vote expected in December.

“Basically it’s a matter which has to go through certain processes,” said task force member Elliott Silverstein after Tuesday’s debate. “The fact that they’re considering everything is very progressive. The fact that everything that we’ve recommended has been accepted as visionary, progressive, great ideas is very promising.

“And now it’s up to what’s feasible for 2010 and what needs to be examined for down the road.”

Vaughan Today
In print: October 2, 2009, page 1
Online: October 1, 2009 [link]