We want results, and we want them now

October 28, 2010
By

ballot

Smart municipalities across Ontario, and Canada, are realizing that electronic vote counters make sense. They proved themselves again Monday night.

In Guelph, these machines were able to count 28,072 ballots more quickly than any human and told us who had been elected well before bedtime Monday night. Voters could tune in to the city’s website and get up-to-the-minute results as polls were entered into the system.

The city passed along updates as soon as it had them, getting the word out on its Facebook site and through Twitter updates. Polls closed at 8 p.m., and results followed shortly after. This is how an election should be run.

In Toronto, one count had it at eight minutes between polls closing and Rob Ford being declared mayor. From hopeful to mayor in under 10 minutes is pretty impressive, or depressing, depending on if you’re a Ford fan or not.

In other Ontario communities where the machines weren’t used, voters would have to wait until the following day to find out who was in, and who was out.

Part of the problem is there is no agency at the municipal level that operates and promotes elections, like Elections Canada. It’s up to towns and cities to decide how efficiently – or slowly – they want to process ballots.

That means they can be declaring the mayor in Kitchener when they’re just starting the counting in neighbouring New Hamburg. Kitchener, like Guelph, and Cambridge and Waterloo, leases electronic vote tabulators from companies like Dominion Voting, a Toronto company that has brought elections into the 21st century.

Forget spoiled ballots that can bog down polling stations. These machines spit them back out – and tell the voter to try again. Accepted ballots are immediately stored on a memory card, which is sent to election officials with the push of a button as soon as polls close.

The alternative, counting by hand, looks painfully archaic. In New Hamburg’s case, part of Wilmot Township, it was almost 2 a.m. before the final ballot had been counted and official results released. At midnight, almost half of the polling stations in the New Hamburg ward had still not reported, with tight races on the line.

In North Dumfries, people went to bed not knowing who their next mayor would be, or who would represent them on their council. By just 431 votes, voters in the rural township of 9,500 had turfed their incumbent mayor in favour of a personal injury lawyer – but they wouldn’t know that until they got up the next morning.

“We just do it the old-fashioned way, and there were lots of things to count,” explained township clerk Roger Mordue.

And that’s fine—but voters can’t be faulted for expecting better. Throughout election night, residents in the townships were emailing their local newspaper and posting notes to a live election feed, asking for results.

“Are they using an abacus?” one reader wanted to know.

Electronic tabulators just make sense. Yes, they cost money to lease, but if voters are willing to pay for that, why make them wait?

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based writer. His column appears Wednesdays. He can be reached at greg_mercer@hotmail.com, and past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca

Guelph Mercury, 10/27/10

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