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Buttons versus hands

Region to investigate whether council should move to electronic voting

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

Regional council has taken its first steps to possibly implementing electronic voting.

In a close vote, councillors voted in favour of having staff report back on the steps needed to start using a system installed in council chambers, but has never been turned on.

Currently, councillors vote by a show of hands or, in more contentious issues, a recorded vote may be called and each individual councillor has to stand and indicate whether they vote yes or no.

Oshawa councillor Amy McQuaid-England and Pickering councillor Kevin Ashe brought the motion forward, with the former saying council needs to move forward and turn the system on, in part because it makes things more transparent at regional council.

“Most people don’t have the time to sit and watch hours of meetings. They need to be able to find things in a quick and easy manner, and having an electronic vote incorporated into the region and moving that forward with e-agendas is the perfect way to make sure that all residents have access, easily, to how their council members vote,” McQuaid-England told The Oshawa Express following the meeting of region council.

All but two Oshawa councillors – McQuaid-England and John Neal – voted against the motion, with some citing the tradition of how votes are currently carried out in council chambers.

“We have proud tradition in our previous chamber and in this chamber that we’ve always voted by a show of hands, where everyone is very clear. And if there’s a very contentious issue, we’ve always had a recorded vote, which certainly nails it on the record of it,” Councillor John Aker said in council chambers.

“I want to take a step into the future like everyone else, but I always want to respect the proud traditions of the Region of Durham.”

McQuaid-England questioned the sentiment of Aker and other councillors who said they wanted to stick with tradition, adding that it is time for new traditions to be implemented.

“I think that the argument that because of tradition, we shouldn’t move forward, is part of the reason we have such low voter turnout, why young people are not turning to get involved in government,” she said.

“We need to start accepting a tradition of open government, and part of that open government is to make things available to the residents at their opportunity when they want to look at it.”

Ashe questioned the reluctance by councillors to implement electronic voting in council chambers, saying he thought this motion would be “a housekeeping motion.”

“If we supported tradition in regards to voting, we wouldn’t be having voice vote and Internet voting in Whitby in a by-election. Women wouldn’t even be able to vote if we kept the tradition of long ago,” he said.

“I really believe in transparency and this is an opportunity for transparency.”

No official timeline was given as to when the report would be completed, by Regional Chair Roger Anderson indicated during debate that it could be ready by the fall.

Regional staff have not returned The Oshawa Express’ request for comment on when the electronic voting system was initially installed at regional council, or how much it cost at the time.