The Strathcona Regional District board was split on whether or not to allow voting by mail to all residents of the regional district, or to remove the option entirely.
The province recently changed rules around voting by mail. In previous years, mail-in ballots were only for people who would be unable to vote in person. The new rules allow local governments to decide whether to allow all electors to be able to request to vote by mail, or not allow any mail voting.
At the May 11 meeting, four directors were against allowing voting by mail, Directors Mark Baker, Andy Adams, Gerald Whalley, and Brenda Leigh. Those opposed who spoke on the matter were concerned about the potential for voter fraud in elections.
“Many of these elections are close,” said Whalley. “A small bit of electoral fraud can definitely change the outcome of the election. It’s more important to have integrity than it is to have mail-in ballots.”
Director Jim Abram, who represents the Discovery Islands and mainland inlets including some remote areas like Read Island, had concerns about people who could be unable to vote due to inclement weather.
“Mail-in ballots are in some cases the only way people can vote,” Abram said. “There should be the opportunity for people who cannot get in… it would just be criminal to take that away.”
However, Leigh said that since there are multiple voting days, there are other chances for people to vote.
“There are too many opportunities for shenanigans when you do bulk mail out ballots,” she said. “The way things are right now is so wide open to corruption.”
Leigh’s comment referring to mail out ballots prompted Abram to ask for a clarification about the items presented.
“It is not the bulk mail out of ballots,” director Claire Moglove said. “It’s just that people can request it.”
However, Leigh was still opposed to mail out ballots, saying that “people should make an effort to get out… from under their television and go vote in person.”
Those in favour of allowing voting by mail were more concerned about people not being able to have the right to vote if they were unable to come to a polling place.
“The ability to have access to voting is far more important than any minor concerns about anomalies,” said Cortes Island director Noba Anderson. “I don’t think these local elections are high stakes enough that there’s going to be a massive voter fraud attempt. In this day and age of incredible uncertainty for all kinds of reasons… being able to give voters access… is paramount to democracy.”
After the debate board chair Unger called a poll vote so each director’s vote is clearly entered into the record. Directors Baker, Adams, Whalley, and Leigh all voted to remove voting by mail, and directors Moglove, Colleen Evans, Kevin Jules, Abram, Martin Davis, Anderson and Ron Kerr all voted in favour of keeping it. Though it was unclear in the meeting recording, SRD staff confirmed that director Unger’s vote was in favour of keeping mail in ballots as well. Directors Julie Colburne and Charlie Cornfield were not present at the meeting.
SRD staff will now be preparing a bylaw for the board’s approval.