CHESTERVILLE — Potentially the largest percentage of participating voters will cast their electronic ballots today in the 2018 municipal and school board elections — the first of six available days to exercise one’s franchise in rural municipalities across the region.
Kicking off at 9 a.m. this morning, Oct. 17, the vote runs 24/7 until 8 p.m. on Oct. 22.
And the first day tends to be a big one, says Dean Smith, president of Intelivote Systems Inc. — the firm contracted by municipalities to handle the online and telephone vote in Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, along with Prescott and Russell — and beyond.
“Typically, 30 percent of the participating voters would vote — or anywhere between 20 and 30 percent is what we see generally [on the first day],” Smith told Nation Valley News. “And then it drops pretty consistently across the days, and then on Election Day [Oct. 22], you usually get another 20 to 30 percent.”
And if the pattern stays consistent for weekdays, most of today’s voters will make their selections between 5 and 7 p.m. this evening. Smith added that another weekday peak time is 10 a.m., while weekend voters tend to vote between 10 a.m. and noon.
And if you haven’t voted, don’t be surprised to find candidates’ brochures in your front door as the 22nd approaches. Those seeking your vote are given access to the system to see who has — and who hasn’t — cast a ballot yet, allowing them to focus their energies where required. (How you voted is not revealed, of course.)
Most rural municipalities in the area have been holding totally online and telephone elections since 2003, and Intelivote was their contractor of choice in the last election, 2014. Just shy of 200 Ontario municipalities are conducting online and telephone elections this year, double the number in 2014, according to Smith. His firm is handling 99 of them this year — representing a population of 920,000 voters.
Asked about candidates who may be tempted to show up on doorsteps with a laptop or tablet in hand and an offer to “help” the resident with their vote, Smith had this advice: “You may think you’re helping … but you will never live it down on social media that you were, ‘Helping them vote.’ Nobody will ever believe you didn’t do something sinister. So my advice is, don’t help anybody [to vote online]. If they need assistance, the clerk’s office has that capability.”
He added that some municipalities have passed bylaws explicitly prohibiting candidates from assisting voters this way as well.
Locally, voters may notice some changes to the online process, which now includes a requirement to input one’s date of birth, along with the PIN number, as a secondary security measure. Smith said the virtual ballot also features a new option to “decline” the vote. The option to “spoil” ballot as a choice also returns for 2018.
A couple of local municipalities — South Dundas and South Stormont — are augmenting their online vote by letting residents use a paper ballot if they choose. But they’re a relative rarity, according to Smith, noting that only 19 percent of his municipal clients offer the paper ballot as an option to online and telephone voting. For those that do, Intelivote works with a third-party firm that supplies automated paper ballot-counting machines. But suggests those traditional polling places tend to be pretty quiet the vast majority of residents opt to vote online.
With a six-day run-up to Oct. 22, local municipalities are actually offering a relatively short voting period compared to some of Intelivote’s other jurisdictions. Smith said residents of several municipalities have been able to vote since Oct. 6. Other groups have been rolling out at various dates since then. “They can go up to 30 days before Election Day.”