Monday, September 17, 2007

Confused by Elections Ontario

I'm completely confused as to why we won't know the results of the MMP referendum until Oct. 11, if not later, almost a full day after the close of voting in the Oct. 10 provincial election.

Here's the explanation from Elections Ontario:

That's due to the vastness of Ontario with its 29,712 polling stations in 107 ridings, an extension of voting hours to 9 p.m. from 8 p.m. – and the higher threshold for passage of the vote.

They go on:
Complicating matters is the election and referendum ballots will be cast in the same boxes and must be separated for tallying.

"We have 29,712 polls so until we have 29,712 results, we just don't go to bed," said Hollins, noting election results should be known by midnight Oct. 10 because those ballots will be counted first.

Doesn't make sense to me. The only thing that sounds slightly plausible is that polls don't close until 9 pm, but even that's a stretch. The vastness of the polling stations doesn't matter because each poll is staffed by the same number of people that can do the count, and I fail to see how the threshold needed to pass could impact the speed with which ballots are counted. And time to separate the referendum ballots from the electoral ballots? Doesn't take that long.

In May 2005, B.C. held its election on electoral reform in conjunction with a provincial election, and I worked for Elections B.C. as a DRO. As an aside, when we handed people their two ballots, one for their MLA and one for the referendum, I'd say almost half had no idea what the referendum was about, and the level of spoiled ballots ended-up being high. Education will be an issue in Ontario as well, I think. In B.C., that lack of education made the difference.

Anyway, despite having both ballots going into one (very stuffed) ballot box we were able to have our count done and results released for both referendum and MLA that night. Indeed, I'd say it took my poll clerk and I just over an hour, although some of the other polls at our station were slower.

Separating the ballots wasn't a problem: one was black and one was red, and the black (MLA) one was a fair bit longer too. So we dumped the box, stacked the electoral ones and put the referendum ones back in the box. We did our MLA count, did the paperwork, filed the ballots in their envelops and then did the referendum count. Took 20 minutes, tops. Yes, No or spoiled. Fill out paperwork, into their envelopes, bam, done. Count sheet goes to the returning officer and the unofficial results are made public on the Web site.

That night, British Columbians knew the unofficial result of the referendum, namely, that while it got more than 50 per cent (it got 57 per cent) of the vote it failed to reach the 60 per cent threshold needed for ratification. They'll try again in 2009. Now, naturally it took takes for the official results but that's normal for all elections. They're not usually certified for weeks.

So, given that the mechanics of the system seem to be the same in Ontario, I fail to see why we can't have unofficial results on e-night. Reading the article it seems they might be planing to not do the referendum count at the polls, but rather ship the ballots back to HQ for the counting. That seems an odd choice, one that causes unnecessary delay.

If B.C. can do it, I'd like to think Ontario can too.

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