Coronavirus crisis forces Lunenburg to reverse paper-only ballot decision

by Keith Corcoran

The coronavirus pandemic has forced Lunenburg to crumple last year's decision to go with paper-only ballots in this fall's municipal election and give voters the option of telephone or electronic methods.

Believing the COVID-19 crisis will create significant challenges and risks associated with a paper-balloting in October, civic politicians introduced first reading of a bylaw to make alternatives available.

Final reading is slated for later this month.

Council's October 2019 edict to "continue to use paper-only balloting" was cancelled by council motion.

Pat Burke, the town's lawyer and returning officer, said the e-voting supplier possesses system controls concerning fraud protection. During a previous council meeting, Burke indicated computers would be made available by the town to vote at a prescribed polling station. Election workers would be made available to assist voters with e-voting and for those who may not have a personal smart phone or computer to cast their ballots, he added.

Councillor Matt Risser asked Burke about security, false data-entry and protections against hacking.

"This is essentially totally based on the good will of individuals that they only will vote the PIN [personal identification number] that is assigned to them," Burke told council.

The system will flag instances if there are a "flood of votes from one IP [internet protocol] address," Burke pointed out. There will be an exception for nursing homes where voters would be most likely to cast ballots from one IP address.

"Other than that, I'm not sure of the internal controls to prevent hacking," Burke said.

Last year, a majority of council followed Burke's recommendation to side with the traditional way of exercising one's civic duty.

"We are a small unit from a geographic perspective," Burke said at the time, pre-COVID crisis, "so it is relatively easy for most voters to get to the polling station."

Mayor Rachel Bailey felt e-voting would capture the attention of younger voters.

Twenty-three of 49 municipalities in the province with contested elections, such as Bridgewater, used a form of electronic voting in 2016.

Municipal elections take place across the province on October 17.

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