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Alberta's municipal leaders quash electronic voting

Ultimately, the resolution failed, with 325 votes opposed and 250 in favour. 
2411 electronic vote file CC
St. Albertans line up to vote in the 2021 municipal election. JESSICA NELSON/St. Albert Gazette

Electronic voting likely won’t be on the table for the next municipal election based on a decision by Alberta’s urban communities last week. 

Municipal leaders from across Alberta met in Edmonton and online Nov. 17 to Nov. 19 for the 2021 Alberta Municipalities convention. Formerly known as the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA), Alberta Municipalities represents urban communities in Alberta, and lobbies the provincial government on municipal issues. 

Each year, leaders vote on resolutions that shape their advocacy. This year, a range of resolutions were on the floor, from mental health and wellness for public safety personnel, to transparency in how police organizations are funded. 

The most deeply contested resolution, however, was one put forward by the City of Lethbridge, and seconded by St. Albert, asking the province to amend its online voting laws to bring electronic voting to municipal elections in 2025.

Ken MacKay, a St. Albert city councillor, spoke in support of the resolution during the conference, noting the pandemic has proven all levels of government must adjust to innovative levels of service delivery.  

“The province now has an opportunity to empower municipalities who choose to reduce red tape when it comes to our electoral process,” MacKay said. “Online voting provides an additional tool in our toolbox that will increase accessibility and potentially reduce the costs for future administration of local elections.”

In presenting the resolution, Lethbridge councillor John Middleton-Hope noted online voting is already offered in Ontario and Nova Scotia, and that both provinces cite improvements to accessibility, voter turnout, and convenience. 

Some leaders also voiced their support for the resolution, including Jasmine Mian, a city councillor in Calgary. 

“Over and over again on the campaign trail, what I heard from young people is our democratic systems are not accessible,” Mian said. “You can send millions of dollars online … but you can’t participate in our democracy, and it doesn’t make sense.”

Mian asked other municipal leaders to not just govern “for seniors and the way we’ve had democracy in the past,” but for future generations. 

Sam Munckhof-Swain, councillor for the City of Beaumont, also spoke in favour of the resolution. Munckhof-Swain said he viewed the resolution as “relatively straightforward,” noting it would only begin the discussion about voting online, rather than mandating it be the only way to vote. 

Like Mian, he cited accessibility as a major upside to moving voting options online. 

“I’ve heard a lot of people here talking about the importance of democracy,” Munckhof-Swain said. “Now all I’m hearing here is that they want to keep people out.”

Several members spoke against the resolution, including Curtis Dixon, a newly elected councillor for the Town of Turner Valley. Dixon said he has 20 years of experience as a network and technology engineering specialist, experience that has made him aware of the growing presence of online crime. 

“The cyber-security threats that we’re seeing today are just the beginning of what’s coming, folks,” Dixon said. “This resolution will just open the doors for cyber-criminals to come in and affect our voting rights and our ability to have a fair election.”

Another councillor for Turner Valley, Jonathan Gordon, also spoke against the resolution. Gordon cited cyber-security as one reason he was opposed. 

 “I lived in international countries where people would love to get out and vote, and if we allow this to move forward, we denigrate the value of our democracy,” Gordon said. 

Ray White, councillor for the Town of Morinville, said he was concerned voting electronically would lead to individuals being able to exert influence on the votes of others due to the absence of the voting station’s privacy. 

“There is the ability for people to influence each other’s votes in the sanctity of [the] home,” White said. “To me, this is wrong.”

Ultimately, the resolution failed, with 325 votes opposed and 250 in favour. 


Rachel Narvey

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