Voting machines to make fall debut

Voters in North Cowichan will find themselves using electronic voting machines for the first time in the elections this fall.

According to North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure, council made the $15,000 decision to go to them this year on the recommendation of chief electoral officer Mary Beth MacKenzie.

“She brought it forward as a supplemental item in our budget. The additional cost is about $15,000 to rent voting machines that election. We need one for each polling station; for us, that’s six machines,” Lefebure said.

North Cowichan will be using an electronic machine that scans the ballot when it’s put in and records the number of valid votes.

“It is a very quick form of recording the vote and it’s also quite accurate. If someone, for instance, votes for two mayors, it would spit the ballot out and the voter could take it to the official there and trade it for a new ballot and do it properly.”

MacKenzie told councillors that the system would be an improvement to the current system because it is more accurate.

Also, MacKenzie said, people who make a mistake can get another chance and have their vote recorded.

“Although it does save some money on labour at the polls, in total it will cost us $15,000 more than the conventional hand-counting system. Although it does mean the people working at the polling stations can go home at a reasonable hour, I think the really big thing is the accuracy,” Lefebure said.

Voting machines are definitely not a new thing, and MacKenzie told council that renting them at this stage was preferable to buying them outright.

“The technology seems to change so quickly that she did not want us to make the commitment to this level of technology at this time.”

Longer terms for municipal politicians are a factor, too.

“If we’re going to go to four years from now, it could be light years different,” he said.

This will also affect school trustee elections if a person is voting at a North Cowichan polling station.

“The machine will count all the different votes,” Lefebure said, adding that it’s going to feel different for candidates on election night.

“A little part of me will remember the old days with the lows and highs. During that last election, due to a random collection of circumstances, we had one poll that took a long time to come in and it just happened to be the Chemainus poll that took me from being a loser to being a winner. The other results were in three hours earlier. So for me and the die-hards who stuck with me right to the end we went through the very low moments when we were behind and then that last one came in and we had surged to a slim [16 vote] victory,” he said.

“Now, I assume we will know by 9 p.m. and it will all be done.”

If tied, winner drawn from hat

MacKenzie is now moving forward on a plan to bring in the voting machines and made a report to council May 7.

Although council has approved the rental of the machines, the Local Government Act requires that local governments authorize the use of voting machines by bylaw.  

In addition, if voting machines are used, the bylaw must include procedures for how to vote, the form of the ballot, and procedures regarding the counting of votes, if needed.

If after a judicial recount, the results of the election are still tied, the winner will be determined by lot, which means, in essence, drawing a name out of a hat.  

This procedure is quicker and less costly than conducting a runoff election. This provision has been in place in North Cowichan for several elections, MacKenzie explained to council.

Coun. Al Siebring laughed, “If I’m tied with someone, I’d rather lose than face another election.”

Unintentional spoiling of a ballot will be dealt with simply, she said.

Coun. John Koury asked if there would be some way that a voter who objected to what he or she was facing could somehow present an officially spoiled ballot as a protest and MacKenzie said that option is still open but she would try to discourage anyone who simply wanted to spoil ballots, because they cost 20 cents apiece.

North Cowichan administrator Mark Ruttan agreed.

“If they just stood there and tore them up, we could say: that’s enough, you’re not getting another because that’s not unintentional.”

MacKenzie also told councillors that she expected to see a composite ballot with everything on the one sheet.

“If there are not too many candidates it will be an 8.5 x 11 ballot,” she said.

Before the election, staff will undergo stringent training on how to use the machines, said MacKenzie.