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Measures for 2022 election being taken to prevent online-voting issues of 2018

The 2018 Greater Sudbury municipal election was plagued by delays as a result of the electronic voting system crashing, and the city isn’t planning a repeat performance
2021 07 21 Hybrid Voting
Greater Sudbury will use a hybrid voting system for the 2022 municipal election rather than the all-electronic system employed in 2018 that led to access issues on election night.

The 2022 municipal election shouldn’t be hit by the same delays that affected election night 2018.

City solicitor and clerk Eric Labelle offered the city’s elected officials this assurance during their last city council meeting of the year earlier this month, during which he clarified that the 2018 system will not be recycled. 

As per a motion of city council from April 9, 2019, the city is returning to a hybrid voting model for the 2022 municipal and school board election, using paper ballots and internet voting.

“Staff, over the past few years, have been actioning that direction,” Labelle said. “Staff are in full preparations for the election.”

Paper ballots will be used on election day, Oct. 24, and internet voting will be available throughout the entire voting period, including election day. 

The process by which votes are submitted and counted has been of concern as a result of the electronic-only voting system used in the last election suffering from limited bandwidth, which caused slowdowns and timeouts in 51 municipalities across Ontario, including Greater Sudbury.

“The challenge was with the service provider in providing bandwidth,” Mayor Brian Bigger said during this month’s meeting, noting that the 2022 election will utilize the services of a new provider, Scytl, and that plenty of bandwidth, download and upload speed tests will be done to ensure that another slowdown doesn’t happen this time around.

Scytl will be responsible for the delivery of internet voting, and they’ve partnered with Clear Ballot to undertake paper ballot/tabulator count services on election day. Ballots from all poll locations will be centrally processed at Tom Davies Square by “high speed and capacity” ImageCast tabulators provided by Clear Ballot.

“I’ve always supported the paper ballot and I realize in today’s environment we have to go electronic,” Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini said of the internet voting, suggesting that they should have backups of all files processed.

The vendor has records and server backups in multiple locations, Labelle said, “so that if there ever was a need or an issue of some sort that we’d have a record of those votes.”

A report to city council from the city clerk’s office notes that there’s been a “significant shift” in the way voters cast their ballot, with a decline in paper ballots and an increase in internet voting. 

“The pandemic has further shifted the way people conduct their daily routines and voting is not immune to this change.”

People are wary about public gatherings, the report continued, noting that almost half of the ballots cast in the 2021 federal election were in advance of election day by mail.

The hybrid model being used in the 2022 election will be similar to that used in the 2014 municipal and school board election.

In-person paper ballot voting will be available at 25 “vote anywhere” locations on election day, as well as at 23 long-term care and nursing homes throughout the city where residents will be able to cast their ballot.

Also of concern to Vagnini was the accuracy of the voters’ list — a longstanding concern of city council members since it might lead to fraudulent online votes.

“There have always been challenges, it’s no surprise to any of us that there are mistakes and incorrect information that makes its way into the preliminary list of voters,” Labelle said.

The list is mandated and provided to municipalities by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, and generated through responses to enumeration forms sent to property owners as well as people contacting MPAC directly to make changes to their information.

The city will receive the preliminary list of electors in August, at which it’ll be reviewed for potential mistakes, which is sent back to MPAC for the formulation of a time final voters’ list. 

The City of Greater Sudbury will launch an online “Am I on the Voters’ List Tool” to help residents ensure their information is correct.

Voter information letters will then be sent to voters on the list containing the information required to cast online ballots, as well as where they can cast paper ballots on election day.

There was a 17.38 per cent change in the list in 2018 and a 29.53 per cent change in the list in 2014, and Labelle said with so great a change each time around, voters’ lists in all jurisdictions are problematic. A legislative solution is underway, but isn’t expected until the 2026 election.

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.