Absentee Mail-in Ballots by 2011

Summer 2007 CSANews Issue 63  |  Posted date : Aug 07, 2007.Back to list

Ontario snowbirds won't be able to send an absentee mail-in ballot for this fall's Oct. 10 election. But a Conservative member of the Ontario legislature hopes  that they will be able to do so by the next provincial vote in 2011.

In late May, Tim Hudak, the MPP for the Niagara-area riding of Erie-Lincoln, introduced a private member's bill that would allow Ontario residents who are travelling outside of the province during a provincial election to vote through a mail-in ballot. But just days later, the proposed legislation died on the order paper when Premier Dalton McGuinty called on lieutenant-governor James Bartleman to prorogue the legislature.

As a result, Hudak – or another MPP, should he not be re-elected – will have to wait until the legislature resumes sitting after the October election before tabling the same or a similar bill.

However Hudak, a former minister of tourism, culture and recreation in the Mike Harris government, is convinced that the situation regarding out-of-province voting will be "corrected" by the next election.

But the Opposition MP admits that until this past spring, he didn't realize that anything needed correcting – that is, until CSA president Gerry Brissenden informed him that Ontario was the only jurisdiction in North America which does not allow absentee mail-in balloting.

"I just assumed that was the reality across the board until Gerry pointed out that all of the other provinces and territories, each of the 50 states and Mexico allow for mail-in ballots," Hudak told CSANews.

Bill 231, "An Act to Provide Fair Access to Vote for Snowbirds, Students, Military Personnel and Other Ontarians Abroad" would amend the Ontario Elections Act to enable an out-of-province snowbird to apply – at least 24 hours before the close of the general polls in his or her electoral district – for a ballot to be sent by mail or courier.
Along with the person's name and contact information, the application would include a statutory declaration indicating that individual's right to vote and a yet-to-be-determined fee.

The application could be made in person to a returning officer, or sent by regular mail, e-mail or fax; the ballot would be valid only for the first election following the date of the application. (Applications can be filed even before elections are called.)

Out-of-province snowbirds would also be able to receive written confirmation that their ballots had been counted "using the means that the applicant specifies," such as via e-mail, regular mail, fax or by courier.

Hudak said that not allowing mail-in balloting is unfair to Ontario snowbirds, many of them seniors "who fought for our country, and who built Ontario and made it strong."

"It's unfortunate that while they're enjoying some well-deserved time outside Ontario in the south, they would lose their ability to vote in an election."

He said that while Marie Bountrogianni, Ontario's minister responsible for democratic renewal expressed her support for the idea behind the Fair Access to Vote Act, she didn't include it in the Election Statute Law Amendment Act, which was given royal assent in the Ontario legislature on June 5.

Among its initiatives, that legislation extends the hours of operation of polling stations in most parts of the province by 60 minutes and increases the number of advance polling days from six to 13.

Snowbirds may well take advantage of advance voting as the only other option  which they currently have, should they be outside of Ontario on election day.

Ontario, along with Yukon and Nunavut, are the only Canadian jurisdictions that offer proxy voting.

But that process is "complex and time-consuming," according to Hudak. "It means that you put your trust in somebody else to mark your ballot."

Running for re-election this fall in his fourth election – in the newly created riding of Niagara West-Glanbrook – 39-year-old Hudak said that he's already encountered Ontarians who were discouraged from voting once the proxy system was explained to them.

"They have to find somebody in their riding whom they trust to mark their ballot for them," he said.

Anyone planning to be away during an election must sign an application to vote by proxy in the presence of a third party. The designated proxy would then take the application to the returning officer and be issued a certificate to vote –a document that must be presented at an advance poll or on election day in order to cast a ballot on behalf of the voter.

"This cumbersome process chases off many voters, unfortunately, a large portion of whom are seniors," said Hudak.

"It's also awkward in that you're trusting another individual to mark your ballot."

He explained that by comparison, absentee mail-in balloting in other provinces has proven to be a hassle-free experience and one that doesn't compromise a person's security or identity.

Said Hudak: "Other provinces, such as Saskatchewan and British Columbia, that have used the system report no problems with fraud and have confidence that it is working well."