By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
For the city clerk’s staff, it’s officially election season – at least that’s how Jason McWilliam, the city’s manager of records and information systems, sees things.
At the most recent meeting of the corporate services committee, McWilliam and city clerk Andrew Brouwer presented an overview of the methods to be used during next year’s municipal election, along with explaining some of the changes that came into effect following the approval of changes to the province’s Municipal Elections Act and the Municipal Act in September.
And for the most part, Oshawa voters can expect much of the same thing when they step into the polls on Oct. 22, 2018, at least as far as their ballot is concerned.
City staff recommend avoiding the implementation of any different voting methods such as online or by-mail voting, mostly pointing to the switch back to a ward system already being enough of a change for many voters.
Due to the ward system, the report states that “it is anticipated that additional voter education will be required and introduction of an alternative voting method may, in the city clerk’s opinion, unnecessarily complicate an elector’s access to the voting process.”
For that reason, residents can expect the same paper ballots on voting day and staff will be using the same optical scan vote tabulators to count them. However, the clerk is looking for council to approve alternative language technology, mostly via the telephone, that will help get answers to commonly asked questions for residents whose first language is not English or French. The cost for the initiative, which many municipalities undertake, is set to be shared among GTA municipalities.
For candidates however, the provincial changes in the fall of 2016 mean a few curveballs may be coming this time around.
Among the changes is a decreased campaign period, which previously saw the chance for candidates to register anytime between Jan. 1 and September of an election year. Now, the nomination period doesn’t open until May and closes in July. Candidates will also be once again required to obtain 25 signatures of local residents to support their nomination papers.
There have also been several changes to funding and advertising rules for the elections. Any third parties looking to engage in advertising for or against a candidate or issue, whether they are an individual, corporation or trade union, must register with the city clerk in order to do so and have strict spending limits. The province has also decided to ban candidates from receiving corporate and union donations.
The new provincial changes also introduced the option for municipalities to use ranked ballots in their elections if they so choose. It is something that Mayor John Henry says is a “real concern” as the province expects municipalities to figure it out on their own without providing any guidance as to how such an election would look.
However, the point is effectively moot as Brouwer states the timeline to declare the use of ranked ballots has passed, meaning Oshawa can’t use such a ballot even if councillors chose to. According to the clerk’s report, he is not aware of any municipalities opting to use ranked ballots in 2018.
“A number of legal interpretation, procedural and voting technology questions raised by municipal clerks have remained largely unaddressed,” the report states.