Administration presented council with a three-page summary report and recommendations on electronic voting (e-voting) during the April 26 session. Next year’s municipal election is in October and Hawkesbury is the sole municipality in Prescott-Russell that has not made a final decision on how residents will cast their ballots.
The report recommends Hawkesbury join other municipalities in choosing e-voting through the Internet as its sole method for casting ballots. One advantage would be that all eight municipalities could then partner on getting a single contractor to provide and manage an e-voting system for the Prescott-Russell region and so share the cost for the system.
The last year for paper ballots only for Hawkesbury’s municipal election was 1997 when there was a 61 per cent turnout of voters to the polls. The report noted that Hawkesbury allowed votes by phone for the 2000 municipal election and that saw once more a 61 per cent voter turnout.
The choice of either phone or Internet for voting was offered in 2003. Voter turnout was 54 per cent but the report indicated no data was available then to show which method was most popular. The 2006 and 2010 elections also had no comparison data about whether voters favoured phone ballots or Internet ballots though the poll turnout was 54 per cent for 2006 and 62 per cent for 2010.
The 2014 and 2018 elections saw 54 per cent and 52 per cent voter turnout but they also had comparison data on which voting method was most popular. E-voting by Internet was preferred by 67 per cent of voters in 2014 and 75 per cent in 2018.
Council members discussed whether Hawkesbury residents should still have a choice of either casting their ballot through Internet or by phone in 2022. Some Prescott-Russell municipalities have chosen the Internet as the sole e-voting method for next year’s municipal election while others still plan to use both phone and Internet for accepting ballots.
During the last two municipal elections in Hawkesbury, the town set up a Help Centre for voters who did not want to phone in their votes or had trouble with their phone line or did not have access to a home computer. They could go to the designated Help Centre and get help from town staff to cast their e-vote on an electronic tabulator. The report noted that the municipality could again set up a Help Centre for voters who have concerns about voting via the Internet and the town could also set up a mobile poll system to make sure seniors and shut-ins are able to vote.
A majority of council voted against the recommendation for an Internet-only e-voting method for Hawkesbury for the 2022 municipal election. Administration will prepare another report on voting options for council to consider later in the month.