Phone and internet voting coming to Highlands East

By Darren Lum

Highlands East is joining the rest of Haliburton County by authorizing residents to vote by phone or through the internet for the next municipal election.

The township was last to decide and although the deadline to authorize the method of voting wasn’t until May 1, 2022, there was urgency because of the partnership with Dysart et al, Minden Hills and Algonquin Highlands, who have all authorized voting by phone and internet. This collaboration will include a sharing of resources and expertise such as Haliburton County information technology support for any internet related challenges, including a county-wide education effort in the lead up to the next election on or before Oct. 27, 2022.

Highlands East clerk Robyn Rogers said it was important to move forward with a bylaw authorizing an alternative voting method required under the Municipal Elections Act because it allows all four of the municipalities to move forward with a joint Request for Proposal, and allow the information technology department to prepare for any election support.

Minden Hills, the only municipality that enabled its residents to vote by phone and internet in the last election, are unique in that they are also offering vote by paper like 2018.

The benefits listed by Rogers for the phone and internet option compared the last election with mail-in ballots will save the municipality money, avoid any disruption by a potential Canada post strike, which was a threat in 2018; requires less people without physical counting, performed relatively easy anywhere around the world, and it has the potential to improve voter turnout, as seen in Nova Scotia’s last election; and it addresses accessibility challenges pertaining to all municipal buildings with the exception of the Lloyd Watson Memorial Centre.

Currently, with health concerns during the pandemic handling physical ballots is not ideal. Rogers added for how long the pandemic has persisted, it’s not clear whether things will return to pre-covid times by 2022. Most people, she said, will have a phone, if they don’t have access to the technology to vote online.

Educating residents is central to this, Rogers said.

“The biggest component here would be educating. Having the education out there to the residents, making them aware of the internet/telephone, assisting however we can. That is really key. The education to this. And if I think it is done, and we’re working together in Haliburton County it is going to reduce the confusion for the residents,” she said.

One of the options Highlands East is considering is a mail-out, alerting and educating residents about the phone/internet method of voting. She added for residents in need of assistance with voting, they can come into the municipal office for in-person help during the advance polling period, including the day of the election.

The decision to authorize voting by phone/internet took a little more than 40 minutes for the township.

Most of the discussion rested with deputy Mayor Cec Ryall, who had “mixed feelings” and his focus on ensuring that “voting is a right for all.”

Throughout the discussion, he acknowledged the listed advantages of voting by phone or internet compared to mail-in voting, but wanted to be sure that voters were not excluded from the voting process, whether they didn’t have a phone and access to the technology to vote online, or simply didn’t feel comfortable with the process.

Ryall eventually heard enough information about different possibilities on voter education and in-person assistance at the municipal office and voted with council to move forward with phone/internet.

Before casting his vote he apologized for being “boisterous” and appreciated being heard and having his concerns for voters addressed.