By Stan Ashbee
At a regular Town of Taber council meeting held Feb. 22, administration requested council’s approval of Proposed Bylaw 6-2021, in order for the municipality to use an automated voting system and electronic vote tabulators for the 2021 Municipal Election. Coun. Carly Firth attended the meeting remotely.
Coun. Louie Tams made the motion for council to give first reading of Bylaw 6-2021, in order for the municipality to use an automated voting system and electronic vote tabulators for the 2021 Municipal Election. Only councillors Garth Bekkering, Tams and Carly Firth voted for the motion. Councillors Jack Brewin, Joe Strojwas, Mark Garner and Mayor Andrew Prokop were opposed to the motion. The motion was defeated.
It was stated in a report submitted to council, as per the Local Authorities Election Act Section 84, “an elected authority may, by bylaw, provide for the taking of the votes of electors by means of voting machines, vote recorders or automated voting systems.”
Administration, it was added in the report, wishes to use such means for the upcoming election, and is therefore requesting council pass the bylaw, so preparations can be made for the use of these means.
Town staff noted the town wouldn’t necessarily have to stick with the automated voting system, “but it gives the chance to use the tabulators.”
“Due to all of the controversy about these automated voting systems — at this time, until other jurisdictions have perfected this without any of the backlash that goes with it, I’m not ready to support this motion whatsoever. I think there’s too many questions. In this regards, I think we should be a follower, and not a leader of these automated tabulators,” noted Coun. Strojwas.
Coun. Tams said unlike Coun. Strojwas, he totally disagrees. “I think we can be a leader and not a follower. An automated voting system is great because we’re not talking about mail-in ballots, we’re talking about an automated voting system at the polling station. You still have to appear there and we’re using tablets to calculate it all. I am totally in favour of this.”
Coun. Brewin said he would have to agree with Coun. Strojwas. “It’s one step closer for mail-in ballots. I think we should do it the old fashioned way. It’s always worked. I don’t think we should change.” He added, “I wouldn’t support this.”
Coun. Bekkering asked town staff if there are any other municipalities using an automated voting system, such as the one being considered in Taber.
“Yes, there are quite a few communities. Especially with COVID this year, it’s a good time to try them, for those who haven’t already,” noted staff. “In this case, it’s just the tabulating portion. Coaldale had very good luck with it last year.”
Coun. Tams asked for some clarification from town staff. “So, they still fill out a paper ballot and you insert a paper ballot into a counting machine? That’s all we’re doing, correct?” Town staff said, “that is correct.”
Coun. Mark Garner asked town staff what the cost was for the equipment. “This particular cost is around $8,500 and it involves, at this point, three tabulators. It has been included in the considered budget council has passed for the election, as a whole. It would actually reduce the cost of the contracted employees for the election,” staff noted.
There’s been some controversy these ballot counters can be pre-programmed, said Coun. Strojwas. “I don’t know if that’s true or not, but that’s certainly an issue that’s popped up in other federal elections.”
“It doesn’t make much difference in our small community maybe, but if these machines can be pre-programmed to count one way or the other, that would be unacceptable,” Coun. Strojwas added.