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Gentili: We all deserve a round of applause after tough election campaign

Sudburians played the great democratic game well, too bad more of us didn't vote
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online voting stock
(Supplied)

After an intense, oftentimes divisive and negative campaign, Greater Sudbury has its first two-term mayor in the brief history of our amalgamated city.

Naturally, congratulations are in order for those candidates — including Brian Bigger, the city’s first two-term mayor — who came out on top in their races.

But congratulations are equally in order for each and every candidate, whether a winner or not. You deserve thanks for believing in our city, for not only desiring to make our community a better place, but for moving beyond desire to action. You saw a need and felt you could fill it, so you put your lives on hold and threw your name in the ring.

That is how democracy works. It’s the only way it can work. Our system of government is voluntary and participatory. That is its strength and its weakness.

There was no shortage of candidates, but there was a shortage of voters. Fewer than half of eligible voters chose to participate. This is not unusual. In fact, it’s pretty average. It is disheartening though that fully half of us opted out.

That said, we did see a high degree of interest in the election itself. We can see from our traffic numbers on Sudbury.com just how many of you were clicking, reading, sharing and commenting on election stories.

We saw that interest reflected in the livestream election coverage we produced for Sudbury.com. When we had to come back for a second night, some 10,000 of you joined us to watch the results roll in.

Interest was particularly high after the troubles experienced on Monday with the online voting system. In 20 years of covering elections, that was a first for me. I think it’s important to reiterate that, as far as we can tell today, the issue was not with the voting software — everyone’s votes are safe, Dominion Voting Systems has said — but with the digital pipelines along which that voting information was flowing.

It was a bandwidth problem, not a software problem, from what the city and the company has said.

It seems at this point that Greater Sudbury city staff received quite a bit of undeserved criticism from voters and candidates, including Mayor-elect Brian Bigger, for the voting troubles on Monday.

The city wasn’t responsible for Dominion’s troubles and, to my mind, extending the vote by 24 hours seems an entirely reasonable course of action to accommodate as many voters as possible who may have otherwise missed their shot to cast a ballot. To me, that’s a good contingency plan: give people more time to vote.

Criticisms of offering online-only voting are entirely valid, but that was a decision of council (half of whom didn’t want it and it only passed because Bigger broke the tie by voting ‘yes’), not staff.

However, given discomfort with online voting among some voters, particularly older voters, returning to a mixed system of paper ballots and online voting seems the best course of action to me in the future. Don’t be surprised if the new council (which is much the same as the previous council) votes to return to a mixed system. It’s the best way to accommodate the needs and comfort-levels of the most number of voters.

Now, issues with voter cards are another matter entirely. Accurate voter information is essential. We’ve heard of numerous issues with voting information this election, including many people not receiving cards (not that unusual), but also receiving multiple cards or more strangely voter cards for people long dead.

What needs to happen now is for city staff to determine whether there was an unusual number of errors and omissions, and get to the root of the problem, if there is one. Anecdotally, it feels like there was an unusual number of issues with accurate voter information, but we need to see the actual data before that can be confirmed.

As to the makeup of council, that every incumbent who ran was returned to office is meaningful. In what way it’s meaningful is for another day, however.

Today, or even this week for that matter, we will not be expressing an opinion on the outcome of the vote. 
No, now is the time for reflection, for digestion, for rumination. Now is the time for consideration.

Last night after I finally made it home, I tweeted about municipal elections. They are my favourite to cover. They are more personal; they feel closer to home. But the main reason I love covering them is because that’s when you get to see real democracy in action, much closer to its Greek origins when communities (at least those who qualified as citizens; we’re a bit more egalitarian today) would come together to make important decisions.

It’s where you see the citizenry, candidates and voters alike, the most engaged and invested in determining the best course of action for the community. We come together to decide together. It’s an incredible thing.

We all deserve a round of applause.

Mark Gentili is the editor of Sudbury.com and Northern Life.




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