By Tina Comeau
You likely won’t be marking an X on a paper ballot to choose Yarmouth’s next town council. Instead it’s looking like voters will be voting electronically over the Internet or by telephone to choose who they want to see seated around the council table.
The Town of Yarmouth is intending to move forward with electronic and telephone balloting for this year’s municipal and school board elections. A motion was approved at a committee of the whole meeting last Thursday to move in this direction. Council will vote on this recommendation at its Feb. 9 meeting. Election day is Oct. 20.
Electronic and telephone voting negates the need for numerous polling stations. As a result there is only expected to be one polling station at the town hall.
Originally when the town started discussing electronic and telephone voting as an option there had been talk that paper ballots would be available at the town hall polling station. But because changes have been made in Nova Scotia to the Elections Act, councillors were told last week that paper ballots are no longer a requirement.
The recommendation going to council is that the town do away completely with paper ballots. Instead, a computer and a telephone would be available to voters at the polling station. Just as there was when paper ballots were used, there would be assistance available at the polling station for people who require help in casting their vote.
Leading up to the election there will also be detailed information provided to the public on how electronic and telephone voting works.
The two other municipal units in Yarmouth County haven’t yet decided if they’re going the electronic and telephone voting route.
The Municipality of Yarmouth will be looking into the issue further before making a decision and the issue will be discussed at Argyle Council’s next meeting.
Through electronic or telephone voting, voters are assigned a pin number. After a person has completed their voting the pin number is no longer valid.
The benefits touted for electronic and telephone voting is it increases voter turnout by making the process more convenient and accessible. It can also be a cost savings to municipalities as fewer polling stations and staff are required.
Spoiled ballots become non-existent because there is no question over the intention of a voter's choices. Voters are given the chance to confirm their votes before the voting process ends.
In the last municipal elections in Nova Scotia some units did use electronic and telephone voting. In the Town of Stewiacke voter turnout climbed from 35 per cent from the previous election to 71 per cent. In the Town of Berwick they went from a dismal average of 15 to 30 per cent voter turnout to 55 per cent. Many municipal units are intending to use electronic voting this year.
In the town it cost approximately $20,000 to run the last municipal election. Voter turnout was 51.93 per cent.
Another benefit to electronic voting is the results are available much faster – sometimes even 15 to 20 minutes after the polls close. In the last election in the town it took more than five hours before all of the results were known.