Make all votes recorded votes
I attended more than my fair share of all-candidates’ meetings during the recent municipal election. Here are a few good ideas gleaned from the campaign trail around the county.
-Recorded votes: Make every council vote a recorded vote. This is an example of how electronic voting can serve democracy. Instead of a show of hands for any vote, let’s have councillors press a button, with the results showing up on a big screen for all present to see, and recorded in the minutes.
This would allow electors to evaluate exactly where their councillors stand on issues of concern and, if necessary, contact them to express support or disagreement. And, at election time, there would be a reasonable amount of evidence to show how a councillor has represented the municipality and whether re-election is warranted. Of course, that’s precisely why some elected councillors don’t want a more transparent voting system.
UPDATE – on January 20 2015, Orangeville Council voted to make all votes recorded votes. Congratulations, Orangeville!
-All-candidates’ meetings Let voters ask their own questions. It’s the closest candidates get to a job interview, and the residents are the employer. There should be no self-appointed voices of authority to mediate between the voters and the candidates and decide what questions should be asked. Voters should be able to participate, rather than just sit and applaud.
Various models are possible. In the third Springwater meeting, questions were by open mike or in writing and the moderator (we were so fortunate to have Dale Goldhawk) alternated, drawing the written questions from a series of jars – one for each position. That said, there were still people lined up and many questions left in the jars when time ran out. In future, I think we should use the internet to put all the questions people bring to the meetings online, and candidates can log on and answer them.
The Collingwood Chamber of Commerce had a good idea too, and that was to set aside two short segments of the meeting in which all the candidates for a particular position asked a question of each other. This made for a very dynamic exchange of views, because these guys knew their opponents’ weak spots.
Bad idea in Wasaga Beach: questions to be answered by only one candidate. The meeting turned into a real yawner. The answers need to come from all candidates for a position to allow voters to get a better understanding of issues and make comparisons. I also noticed that at meetings where the questions were posed by Chamber of Commerce or media types, there were no questions relating to food, water, farmland or natural heritage, and that was not the case at meetings where the people stepped up to the mike.
Another bad idea, from the Southern Georgian Bay Chamber of Commerce: charging candidates $50 for the privilege of attending all-candidates’ meetings.
Super-bad idea from the Oro-Medonte Chamber of Commerce: people attending the all-candidates’ meetings were not even allowed to applaud. I actually consider heckling to be a good test of a politician’s mettle – but I recognize that people in this area aren’t comfortable with it. But not being allowed to applaud? No self-respecting gathering of electors should have to put up with that.
-Real-time disclosure: Rob Keffer, BWG mayor elect, challenged his opponents to refuse campaign donations from developers (they did). Keffer also posted all donations over $200 on his campaign website on a biweekly basis – that way voters knew who his backers were before Election Day. The law presently requires that the information be revealed by a deadline next spring, but it’s information that’s far more useful during the campaign.
-Voting in person: Still in Bradford West Gwillimbury, kudos to the town for making in-person voting as attractive as possible, with six advanced voting days, a mobile voting station visiting five seniors’ residences, five voting locations on Oct. 27, residents able to vote at any one of the five regardless of where they live, and free public transit with a voter’s card.
I am strongly in favour of paper ballots and in-person voting and would like to see a rigorous analysis of whether electronic voting actually boosts voter turnout, and how protection against fraud and hacking works. Certainly, in the last election, the opportunity for fraud existed in Springwater, with many households receiving voter I.D. cards and passwords for residents who had moved away. So how was this monitored, what was the protection? I look forward to a report from the Springwater clerk.
Barrie’s clerk said that city won’t have electronic voting because of the lack of security and the fact that it’s too costly. This goes against the usual argument that, besides increasing voter turnout, electronic voting is supposed to be cheaper. I’d like to be assured that the savings are significant – because I’d sooner have locals staffing polling stations than transfer the employment to Canada Post and some multi-national south of the border.