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Ontario voting troubles: Bigger broke the tie that decided online-only voting in 2018

The 2017 decision divided council, but lower cost of e-voting versus mixed voting carried the day

A provincewide glitch with the online voting system froze Greater Sudbury's election Monday, with the poll being extended into Tuesday from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

Before the system failed, 39,952 people or 35.12 per cent of eligible voters had cast ballots in the city's first fully online election. Those ballots will be counted Tuesday when voting resumes and no one has to vote a second time. Residents can go to the same polling stations as Monday to vote, except for The Microtel on The Kingsway, which was previously an electronic voting location, but will not be available during the extended voting period..

The decision to go with the online-only vote was made on May 30, 2017 by city council, passing by a slim margin of 7-6. While there was support for a mixed online and paper ballot election, the bids for voting machines came back much higher than expected.

Mayor Brian Bigger, who votes last and generally only votes in the event of a tie, cast the deciding ballot.

"Pricing of the combined solution came in at $937,546.04 (HST included), which was significantly higher than what was anticipated based upon the solution price in the 2014 Municipal and School Board Election ($391,061.23),” a staff report from 2017 says. “The prices for paper ballot/tabulator count equipment nearly tripled from the previous election.”

Not only was it more expensive, the report said there were questions about whether the bidder was able to properly provide the service. The bidder failed to respond to questions regarding security issues for the online vote, and the bid failed to comply with the Municipal Elections Act.

“As a result of the evaluation of the information presented in the proposal, the combined solution scored poorly,” the report said. “Staff does not recommend the award of this solution given the significant cost and the concerns noted through the evaluation process.”

The main objection raised by councillors at the time was that seniors would have trouble adjusting to the new voting method.

“We've got a lot of people in this community that are over the age of 65,” Ward 5 Coun. Bob Kirwan, who voted against, said at the time. “A lot of the adults who are in their 80s and 90s, they look forward to paper and pencil.”

And Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann said this is no way to treat the residents “who have paid taxes the longest.

“For them it's a privilege,” she said. “To take that option away from them is disrespectful.”

Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini voted against both out of concern for senior voters and due to what he said were technical issues.

“The perfect storm that occurred at the Caruso Club (where voting machines were particularly slow in 2014) also occurred in my ward,” Vagnini said. “People were leaving the polling station after an hour, hour and a 15 minutes out at the Tom Davies Arena.”

Vagnini also raised the spectre of fraud, saying he had residents tell him they voted multiple times, using families online voting cards and PINs.

But Caroline Hallsworth, the city clerk at the time, said voter fraud is an issue no matter what form of voting is used, and that people have been investigated in Sudbury in every election in recent memory.

“Anyone who received two voter cards, if you use the second card, you are committing an offence,” Hallsworth said. “And we referred a couple of cases to the police in the 2014, 2010 and 2006 election.”

She said the voting software is capable of detecting different forms of irregularities, for example, someone voting for their entire family.

“In Halifax in 2010, a man was successfully prosecuted for doing just that,” she said. “It's based on multiple votes being cast in a short period of time from the same IP address … It was addressed as a criminal charge.”

Ward 6 Coun. Rene Lapierre agreed that no one likes change.

“It's new,” said Lapierre, who voted yes. “People hate change, but we have to adapt to it ... But whether they put their 'X' on a tablet or a piece of paper, going to the polling station is still something they can do if they choose to. And it will help with cost savings.”

How they voted:

Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti: Yes
Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini: No
Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier: No
Ward 4 Coun. Evelyn Dutrisac:  No
Ward 5 Coun. Bob Kirwan: No
Ward 6 Coun. Rene Lapierre: Yes
Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo: Yes
Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer: Yes
Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh: Yes
Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier: Yes
Ward 11 Coun. Lynne Reynolds: No
Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann: No
Mayor Brian Bigger: Yes

Passed 7-6


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Darren MacDonald

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