Election changes aim to improve voter turnout

Burnaby council has approved changes to the civic election process it hopes will bring out more voters and improve efficiency.

One of the major changes is adoption of the at-large voting concept, which would allow people to vote at any polling station instead of being restricted to a designated location.

Previously, under a manual system of recording electors, restricting people to certain sites helped prevent voters from casting more than one ballot, said a city staff report.

However, another of the changes approved at a recent council meeting will see an electronic voter strike-off system implemented, allowing voters to be struck off the list in real time when they receive their ballot and new voters to be added instantaneously, wherever they vote in Burnaby.

There were 35 voting locations approved, along with five advance voting locations, up from one in 2011. In addition to the previously-used Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, new advance locations will be at Brentwood, Metropolis at Metrotown, and Lougheed malls and Edmonds Community Centre.

With voter turnout at 23.3 per cent in the 2011 civic election, the hope is that making voting locations more convenient will mean more voters will participate, said Coun. Paul McDonell.

In addition, staff have been directed to look into potential replacement, through a lease agreement, of the current aging set of automated vote counting machines before the 2017 civic election. City staff will also prepare a bylaw to allow nomination papers and campaign financing disclosure statements to be posted online.

The changes will also be more environmentally friendly, the report said, as the electronic voter strike-off system alone will reduce the need to print electors lists, saving about 83,000 sheets of paper in the process.

Coun. Dan Johnston suggested that the at-large system could result in some polling locations eventually becoming redundant, and that citizens could express their preferences during the next civic election.

The issue of introducing online voting will be examined by a task force that has been struck to look into it, and its potential for improving historically low voter turnout, said Coun. Sav Dhaliwal.

"I imagine one day it will come," said Dhaliwal, noting other jurisdictions in Canada have tried it and noticed an increase in turnout, especially in the 30 and under age group.

Mayor Derek Corrigan said he is "appalled" at the idea of online voting replacing the effort it takes a person to visit a polling station.

He expressed concerns that, without some sort of fingerprint or identification system, it would be too easy for someone to gather other people's unused votes to vote more than once.

Calling such a situation a "perversion of democracy," Corrigan said, "Getting inside a voting booth and calling it the way you see it is something that I think is very important in our society."

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