Victoria first tried mail-in ballots during a recent byelection, and will provide the option to voters again in the upcoming civic election. Only those unable to vote at a polling station can apply.
In total, 81 people voted by mail last November, although more mail ballots were sent then returned.
“We certainly saw an increased turnout at extended care facilities, and it captured those who were absent for holidays,” said Rob Woodland, Victoria’s director of legislative and regulatory services.
That byelection saw 26 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots. The numbers were similar to those seen in the 2008 general election, but without a larger sample size it’s still too early to determine the impact of mail ballots on the overall total.
The challenge, according to city spokesperson Katie Josephson, is the timeframe. Mail ballots are only available 10 days prior to general voting day, leaving people little time to return them, especially for people out of country, she explained.
Saanich is also adopting mail ballots for the first time this year to facilitate voting for various groups of people, including snowbirds, students studying abroad and those with mobility challenges.
Esquimalt won’t be able to introduce mail-in balloting for residents this municipal election, though the concept has merit, said Mayor Barb Desjardins.
“If I’m elected I’d like to look at it for the next election because we have a number of people that go away in the fall, and we have a number of military people who would like to vote and they may be out at sea,” Desjardins said.
Oak Bay is also considering the idea. What Mayor Christopher Causton would really like to see, however, is the eventual inclusion of an electronic voting option.
It’s an idea supported by Victoria’s newest councillor, Marianne Alto, as well. Online voting could produce a big increase in voter turnout overnight, she said.
A few other Canadian municipalities have already adopted online voting.
Has the time come for electronic voting? Markham’s mayor says yes
Markham Ont. Mayor Frank Scarpitti introduced online voting to his municipality in 2003.
Since then, three elections have been held, giving the municipality a good sense that it’s on the right track.
Voter turnout increased from 30 per cent in 1997 to almost 38 per cent by 2006.
Polling stations are still offered on election day, but the number of polling sites has been reduced, he said.
In last year’s election, 10,597 people opted to vote electronically. According to a risk-assessment study commissioned by the city, the possibility of fraud during online voting is no greater than other forms of voting, such as by mail or phone, Scarpitti said.
The biggest challenge, he said, is around communications. There has been confusion about the cut off time for voting, he explained, adding some people mistakingly believed it to be midnight.
“I’m very excited that Markham has been a leader in this. I would certainly not only encourage other municipalities, but I would encourage provincial and federal government to embark on the online voting.”