The COVID-19 pandemic has already changed our world as we do more living online. Now, for the first time, electronic voting will be available in Richmond Hill for a York Region District School Board Trustee By-election to fill the position vacated by Corrie McBain. Residents in Wards 1, 2 and 4 will be able to avoid going to a public polling station by voting online this October.
It is an opportunity for Richmond Hill to join other York Region municipalities that have already modernized their voting processes to include more flexible electronic options.
In 2014 and 2018 Richmond Hill Council voted against electronic voting. In 2018, residents could only vote one way, by going to a polling station and marking a paper ballot. Just 27 percent of eligible residents voted.
In contrast, Newmarket, Aurora, and Markham offered several options including voting online or by phone as well as voting with a traditional paper ballot. In every one of those municipalities, voter turnout surpassed Richmond Hill.
Electronic options may increase voter turnout. Aurora residents could vote online between October 12 and October 21 or vote in person on October 22, election day. Voter turnout in Aurora was 32 percent. In Newmarket, residents could vote online or by phone starting October 13 right up to the close of regular polls on election day. Voter turnout there was about 35 percent. Perhaps the most striking example of how online voting may improve voter turnout can be found in Markham where voter participation was over 38 percent with more than 90 percent of voters choosing the online option.
Most Markham candidates got roughly 10 times as many votes online than they did with paper ballots.
For example, Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti received 4,258 paper ballot votes and 51,295 online votes.
In 2018, Newmarket, Aurora and Markham all elected new faces to their Councils. In Richmond Hill, all incumbent candidates and two former Richmond Hill Councillors were elected.
Residents in municipalities that offered electronic voting options were given more time to vote. In Newmarket, Aurora and Markham, residents had between ten and eleven days to vote. Compared with Richmond Hill residents who had only eight days to vote within specific hours at advance polls or on election day.
Phone and electronic voting options increase voter accessibility. It is convenient and available any time to anyone who has a phone or computer. Electronic voting may also increase participation of younger voters who have grown up and live in a digital world.
Security is often a concern for electronic voting. Online voting often requires a single-use pin number which is used with a voter’s birthday to log into the voting system. There are other security measures. The City of Markham, for example, hired an independent auditor to test the online voting system prior to the official election day to ensure the voting process was safe, secure and that ballots were kept secret.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we all live. Many tasks that used to be done in person and in groups have moved online, possibly forever. Electronic voting must be part of that trend. The School Board Trustee by-election provides an excellent opportunity to prepare for online voting in Richmond Hill. It is time Richmond Hill joined other York Region municipalities by implementation electronic voting for all future elections.