Voter troubles weren’t just limited to technical glitches across Ontario Monday night, with voters in multiple Simcoe County municipalities reporting issues with voter cards and online voting.
According to a news release, Dominion Voting Systems blamed a “colocation provider” for limiting bandwidth during online voting on Oct. 22 causing slowdowns and timeouts that brought voting to a standstill in 51 municipalities across Ontario.
The problem forced dozens of municipalities to extend voting by an hour or more, and caused a couple of others, like the towns of Collingwood, Bradford West Gwillimbury, Innisfil and the townships of Springwater and Oro-Medonte, to extend voting for a full 24 hours.
“I guess the question is, who is this other company that wasn’t fulfilling their contractual obligations? If Dominion is claiming that they had unlimited bandwidth, then either they’re passing the buck, or there’s some other kind of issue here that needs to be investigated,” said Jacob Kearey Moreland, Oro-Medonte resident, local political commentator and former Simcoe North co-operative interdependent candidate in the last federal election.
“The point is, for me, our municipality has privatized our elections,” he said.
“I know they’ve done it before and they claim to be reputable, but our municipality has entrusted them with this awesome duty to fulfill our elections and then our municipality basically washed their hands of having any kind of back up plan in place if the system were to fail.”
In Bradford West Gwillimbury, voters also had difficulty with the online system, but some voters had other concerns.
“I received a letter, with voter ID and PIN number, for my mother. She’s been dead for seven years,” said Ruth Brooks, a Bradford West Gwillimbury resident. “Supposing I was less than honest?”
Brooks said she did not receive a voter card in the mail for her mother four years ago, which is why receiving a card this time around is so perplexing. She has also been leery of the online voting process since it was announced, having worked elections in the past.
She said that while polling stations are heavily controlled and scrutinized to remain neutral, there’s no way to know if someone’s home is a neutral zone.
“(In federal and provincial elections), there are even colours of clothing you can’t wear,” she said.
“Homes are not neutral. There are control factors working inside family dynamics. There’s nothing to guarantee that when somebody is sitting down at a computer to cast their ballot, that someone isn’t telling them what they have to do.”
Brooks said she’s nostalgic for voting systems of the past, especially after the voting problems from Monday night.
“The system the town had before was excellent,” said Brooks, about physical ballots being counted by a machine. “I don’t know what was wrong with that system.”
Back in Oro-Medonte, Moreland points to the township specifically touting cost savings as a pro to implementing the municipal election in the manner they did this time around.
“In their pursuit of cost-savings, I'm sure that this hiccup is going to cost them more than what it would have been the cost had they done it in-house.”
While there were advance voting options with paper ballots in Oro-Medonte Township, Moreland wishes there would have been paper options on election day. Oro-Medonte Township council voted in 2017 to not have paper ballots available on election day.
“I was looking forward to not just Internet voting, but digital democratic reforms. So, how can we use the Internet to improve democracy? I’m afraid that this incident will further cement people against that idea,” he said.
“I don’t know how electors will have confidence in the process. It calls into question the whole legitimacy of the process.”
Moreland voted in Oro-Medonte Township early, but found out on Monday night about Internet voting problems when trying to help an elderly resident who had difficulties.
“I like to joke that this election, we’re getting Internet voting. Next election we might actually get the Internet,” he said. “The cost of Internet here is exorbitant, and we don’t get reliable Internet.”
Township of Oro-Medonte clerk Karen Way said this election was intended to be a transition year from paper ballots to online only voting in the township, with both options available. The intention is to eventually get to a point where ballots will be cast online only.
Despite the Dominion set back, Way says it’s too early to tell if that plan will now change.
“We’ve had thousands of people successfully vote online this time around, and I think that’s a great turnout,” she said. “That system was functioning fully except for those two hours on election night.”
The truth is, residents need to understand that there can be many issues that plague voting, regardless the method, said Way.
“Whether you have online or Internet voting, or paper ballot voting or touch screen voting, there’s always a margin of error for something to happen that is outside of your control,” she said. “There’s always an element of risk when running any kind of election.”
“This is an unfortunate circumstance that we’ve been dealt, along with every other municipality that’s been impacted... This is why we’ve taken the initial steps we have to ensure the voter has every opportunity to cast their ballot,” said Way, adding that residents can vote by paper ballot, telephone or Internet on Oct. 23 until 8 p.m.
Way estimates voter turnout will be decent this time around in Oro-Medonte, sitting at 38 per cent by end of day on Monday night, with more people casting ballots on Tuesday, creeping that up number toward 40 per cent.
For comparison, just less than 30 per cent of eligible voters in BWG had cast their ballots as of Monday night, according to the town's clerk Rebecca Murphy.
When asked if there would be an additional cost to the taxpayer due to the election extension, Way was unable to comment.
“It’s too early to comment or know numbers on something like that,” said Way, clarifying that the township has been busy collecting information from residents, Dominion, candidates and staff to create a report to council on the voting process, at which time council will decide on how to proceed next time around. The staff report will include a reconciliation of costs, will be available to the public online and will be presented to council in 2019.
The Town of Innisfil put out a news release on Tuesday, which outlined steps they were taking to ensure this issue doesn’t happen again.
“The Town of Innisfil, along with other Simcoe County municipalities that were impacted by this service disruption, are exploring options for the future and will be reviewing our legal options with Dominion following the election,” read the release.