Even before the servers crashed and the phone lines went down on Election Day in Bradford West Gwillimbury, some voters were reporting issues with the system.
Not Bob Pegg, who voted early in the 10-day election period. “It was very simple to do it — easy-peasy. They made it easy,” he said.
But it was not so simple for some people like Nancy Bobala, who tried voting by phone.
She said she went through the vote-by-phone process on Oct. 12 and found it relatively simple, but at the end of voting “the phone went silent,” she said. After waiting at least 30 seconds, she finally hung up, assuming that her vote had been cast.
It was not until the next day, when she assisted a senior with voting that she heard the final message: “Please press the pound key to cast your vote.”
“I’m freaking,” Bobala said. “I didn’t get that message.”
So she said she went through the whole vote-by-phone process again, pressed the pound key, and assumed her vote had been entered. But when she double-checked at the Voter Help Centre at the library, she discovered her PIN number was still live.
“There was no vote that went through.”
Fortunately, the town’s deputy clerk Tara Reynolds provided a new PIN number and assistance, and Bobala was able to cast her vote.
“It was actually my third time voting,” she said. “I thought, ‘What of the other people who thought their vote went through?’ It was so disheartening. If I hadn’t helped that senior, I wouldn’t have known.”
Dominion Voting Services, the company responsible for online voting in BWG, put the blame for Monday night’s crash on a Toronto-based server hosting service it claims limited voting traffic for 90 minutes, between 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
As of Monday morning, 5,603 votes had been submitted in the BWG municipal election, making up a little more than 23 per cent of the eligible voters, according to Caleigh Clubine, the town’s community relations officer.
By Monday evening, about 7,100 electors had cast their ballots — just under 30 per cent of voters in BWG, said Rebecca Murphy, the town’s clerk and electoral official.
An additional 500 people had voted by Tuesday morning after the system was restarted, Clubine said.
About 100 people were at the Voter Help Centre in the Zima Room of the Bradford West Gwillimbury Public Library, unable to cast their ballots, when the system crashed Monday evening. Some gave up and went home.
BWG resident Alana Mathers said she attempted to vote 39 times in the span of one hour over the phone.
“Yes I’m an idiot for re-reading the paperwork at the last minute. But 39 attempts!!!!” she wrote on Facebook.
"It was an easy and convenient system. Once the kinks are out, it'll all be good," wrote Debbie Walsh on Facebook.
Some other residents blamed fellow voters for the crash.
“This is on the voters as much as the system. You had many days to vote. I had no problems with the system as I understood that lags and things can happen at the last minute,” commented KnitWitShair on BradfordToday.ca. “I don't think scrapping the whole system is a good idea. Having a second voting option is a great idea. We have many people in town who are not as comfortable with online systems as others.”
Ward 1 candidate Dave Wood, an app developer, however, said voters are not to blame for the crash.
“The system has to be designed for humans and it has to take into account human characteristics, one of which is that a lot of people leave things to the last minute,” he wrote on BradfordToday.ca.
“A massive traffic spike had to be expected at the end of the voting period. Computers and systems are programmable, and thus they're easy to change and improve. People's traits and habits are much harder to change (impossible for some).”
It was not only Bradford West Gwillimbury that was affected by the crash, but every municipality that used Dominion Voting Systems as its provider, including Innisfil, Collingwood, Oro-Medonte, Springwater and Penetanguishene.
Municipalities extended the voting deadline, some by just a few hours. In BWG, voters can cast their ballots until Oct. 23 at 8 p.m.
“The site is now up. It’s available online and working,” said Murphy at about 10 p.m. Monday, noting the Voter Help Centre in the library’s Zima Room will be open from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. Tuesday, with staff on-hand to assist those who were unable to vote.
Murphy noted the extension will mean that voters will not be disenfranchised by Monday’s “glitch” in the system. “It’s not the end of the world,” she said.
The voting problems were tougher on the candidates.
“It’s a mess, a disaster, and it’s province-wide,” said James Leduc, running for re-election as BWG’s deputy mayor.
He said Dominion Voting Systems should have been prepared for the surge of voters on Oct. 22.
“Maybe we should go back to a paper ballot,” said Mark Contois, candidate for councillor in Ward 6.
— With files from Jenni Dunning
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