Ottawa eyes mail-in ballots for next municipal election

By CityNews Ottawa

Your next vote for mayor, city council and school board trustee could be by mail, if councillors approve a proposal from city staff.

Ottawa city officials are proposing mail-in ballots, in part, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“This process will allow electors the opportunity to vote without having to attend a voting place in-person,” a city staff report said. “More specifically, this process would allow all eligible electors, particularly those from high-risk groups, including older adults and electors with disabilities who are more susceptible to the effects of COVID-19, to submit an application to the Elections Office to receive a special ballot by mail.”

The mail-in ballots would be in addition to in-person voting, staff explained in the report, and voters “will still have the opportunity to vote in-person or by proxy should they choose to do so.”

The proposal is slated to go before Ottawa's Finance and Economic Development Committee, next week. The proposed by-law would authorize the city clerk to establish the details of mail-in voting, such as the dates, times, and locations at which the mail-in ballots must be received in order to be counted.

The changes proposed would be for the 2022 regular municipal elections, and any by-elections that may occur during the subsequent term of council.

Mail-in ballots were used in the 2020 Cumberland by-election, but this would be the first time mail-in voting would be used for a regular municipal election in Ottawa.

While staff recommend city councillors approve mail-in voting, they are not recommending internet voting or voting by telephone. The city's current provider of election software does not offer a telephone option and city staff feel there are currently no national technical standards for certifying online voting systems, nor auditing or verifying the results they produce.

“As far as staff is aware, none of the current internet voting systems produce an accompanying physical paper trail,” staff added in the report. “As such, conducting a recount would not be possible as a paper ballot does not exist.”

The mail-in voting proposal is scheduled on the agenda of the March 1 meeting of the Finance and Economic Development Committee. If approved, the item would then rise to city council for final approval on March 9.

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