St. Mary’s makes move toward online voting

By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
June 10 2020

SHERBROOKE – In a first step toward the municipal election under COVID-19 social restrictions this fall, St. Mary’s Council has approved a provisional motion to permit telephone and internet voting across the district.

The new “Alternative Voting By-law,” which passed its first reading at Monday’s regular council meeting, will be posted on the municipality’s website, social media platforms and in the Guysborough Journal before it heads to second reading on July 13.

“The only other option under the circumstances is the traditional manner of voting,” said St. Mary’s Chief Administrative Officer Marvin MacDonald. “But the difficulty there may be whether you can get people to actually work the polls. This alternative could relieve the pressure a bit.”

The bylaw’s language – which originated at the Association of Municipal Administrators of Nova Scotia shortly after the provincial government declared last month that local elections would proceed despite the pandemic – specifies that “alternative voting shall be permitted on alternative polling days” and that “the Returning Officer shall cause notice of alternative polling days to be published in a newspaper circulating in the municipality.”

Regarding the “form of telephone and internet ballots,” it says each shall identify the title of position, the name or names by which the candidate is commonly known and warn voters to vote for one candidate only.

Proxy votes are not permitted by alternative voting.

The move to internet voting platforms has concerned local officials who worry about unreliable online service in many rural areas of the province. “You want poor internet, come and visit me some time,” Municipality of the District of Guysborough’s Warden Vernon Pitts – who announced his re-election campaign last week – told The Journal last month. “I live in the Lundy, between Guysborough and Larry’s River. I can’t even have a cell phone at home because it doesn’t work. If I go up the road a couple of hundred meters, then sure.”

But while MacDonald concedes that “the internet has always been a problem” in St. Mary’s”, he says “telephone voting could be a good option. And there will be some form of paper voting.”

Council is expected to make a final decision no later than August 17.