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Pembroke council considering Internet voting for 2010 election

By Anthony Dixon, The Daily Observer

Having switched from the tradition poll and ballot box method of voting to a mail-in ballet for the 2006 municipal election, the city of Pembroke looks poised to change its voting method once again.

The city's finance and administration committee unanimously voted to recommend to city council that it implement a phone and Internet vote as an alternate voting method for the 2010 municipal election.

According to Terry Lapierre, Pembroke's CAO, the switch could encourage even greater voter participation in the election, provide faster results more easily while actually saving the city a bit of money.

"I believe it is very easy for anyone that can use a phone or the Internet to vote using this (electronic) method," Mr. Lapierre told the committee.

When the mail-in ballot method was used for the 2006 municipal election, voter participation increased from 49 per cent to 56 per cent.

While city officials deemed the use of this alternate voting method a success, there was still room for improvement. Mr. Lapierre told the committee that counting the ballots did take extra time because each ballot was inside two envelopes, one for secrecy and one to actually mail it in. Final results from the 2006 election were not available until well after midnight, according to Mr. Lapierre.

Should council accept committee's recommendation to go ahead with an electronic vote, eligible voters would receive a card in the mail with a PIN number as well as the names of the candidates vying for mayor, and council positions. Each name would be associated with a number. Voters could then either log in online with their PIN number and vote via the Internet or, call in, verify with their PIN number, and then vote over the phone. Mr. Lapierre said the phone vote system was similar to filing a tax return by phone in terms of voice prompts, confirmations, etc.

Committee member Pat Lafreniere expressed concern that there could be confusion if a candidate's name was mispronounced on the phone.

Mr. Lapierre said people could vote using either the candidate's name, or the number beside the candidate's name on the voter card to help reduce confusion. He added that before a vote was recorded, the system would ask the voter for confirmation of their selection in order to ensure no mistakes were made.

According to Mr. Lapierre, the electronic system is more accurate and virtually eliminates spoiled ballots. However, if a voter did truly wish to spoil their ballot, the system would permit this and record the ballot as spoiled.

Mr. Lapierre stressed that voting using this method would remain anonymous as there would be no way to trace how each individual voted, only that they did, in fact, vote.

The traditional voting method involving polling stations was used in 2003 and resulted in an overall election cost of $57,870.

The vote-by-mail election of 2006 cost $45,065.

Estimates provided to committee suggested the Internet and telephone voting method would cost about $43,010, slightly less than the mail-in voting method used previously.

Other benefits to the system include the ability of voters to cast their ballot anytime during the voting period from anywhere in the world, and virtually instant election results.

Mayor Ed Jacyno said he felt the electronic voting method was the way to go.

"This is going to save us money. People can vote from home and not worry about the weather, and it's more in keeping with the times. This is the way things are going and we have to keep up. Hopefully this will increase voter turnout," he said.

Should council go ahead with the electronic vote, it is likely the city would still maintain a traditional polling station at city hall on election day for those that still want to walk behind the screen and mark a ballot with a pencil.

INTELIVOTE Systems Inc. recently made a presentation to council, demonstrating its electronic voting service. Five municipalities in Renfrew County are considering using INTELIVOTE Systems in the 2010 election.

Anthony Dixon is a Daily Observer reporter

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