Election reforms designed to ease confusion
TORONTO - Ontario's chief electoral officer will finally have the freedom to explore modernized voting methods like online balloting if new legislation is passed, the government said Wednesday.
The government is following up on recommendations from chief electoral officer John Hollins to make voting more convenient for the public and boost turnout, said Marie Bountrogianni, Ontario's minister responsible for democratic renewal.
The legislation would reduce confusion at the ballot box by listing party affiliation beside each candidate's name. The legislation also proposes pushing the deadline for voting back by one hour, increasing the number of advance-polling days to 13, and requiring that voters show ID before marking their ballot.
The government would also empower Hollins to educate the public on the province's first referendum since 1921 and launch pilot projects during byelections to explore new technologies like online voting or voting at electronic kiosks.
Currently, pilot projects require the support of all parties and Hollins was never able to get unanimous approval when requests were made over the last 15 years, Bountrogianni said.
"This legislation allows him ... to go and have a pilot during a byelection on online voting,'' she said.
"It's complicated, there are security issues, all sorts of issues and the best way to do it is through a pilot ... rather than doing it all at once and not examining the security issues first.''
Bountrogianni also said Hollins can spend as much as he feels is appropriate on an education campaign to ensure voters understand the referendum question on the mixed member proportional voting system.
The province must put at least $13 million into the education campaign to ensure people are well-informed, unlike many voters in British Columbia in 2005, said Joe Murray, president of Fair Vote Ontario.
"In British Columbia, half the people going into the polling stations didn't even know there was a referendum, nevermind know about the proposed system,'' he said.
Bountrogianni said the government is still working on who should be consulted in writing up the referendum question and whether it will be released to the public before voting day.
The legislation also suggests rules on third-party advertising -- there are none in Ontario currently -- that are in line with federal standards.
"If a person or group is going to advertise to influence the outcome of an election, the public has a right to know who is paying for it,'' Bountrogianni said.
The government hopes to boost voter turnout from 2003's total of 56.8 per cent of registered citizens.
Elections Ontario has said a "realistic reachable target'' is 74 per cent.
The province goes to the polls on Oct. 10.