If you didn’t know the name Dominion Voting Services before, chances are you know it now.
That’s the company contracted to provide the online and telephone voting platform for Collingwood and 50 other Ontario municipal elections.
An outage last night let to Collingwood’s Clerk, Sara Almas, declaring an emergency in accordance with section 53 of the Municipal Elections Act.
She had to do that in order to extend the voting period by 24 hours to tonight at 8 p.m. The clerk coordinates a municipal election and acts as the overseer.
“It sounds horrible whenever it’s an emergency,” said Almas, adding that’s the phrasing from the Municipal Act. “Is voting in a municipal election an emergency? No, it’s not an emergency. If we step back and look at what’s happened, we had approximately two full hours at prime time when the system was down and people couldn’t vote. To make the call to extend it one extra day isn’t going to hurt anyone.”
It does, however, make some long days for the clerk's department and other town staff working at the voter help centre. Last night, Dean Collver, director of parks, recreation and Culture, and Nancy Farrer, director of planning, were at the library in the voter help centre.
“I’m happy with the decision,” said Almas. “It’s frustrating, obviously. It’s something we’re going to be evaluating further before we make any kind of recommendation to the new council for the next election. Do I think we’ll be using the same process? Probably not.”
Meanwhile, some residents have taken to social media to complain about the system.
“Hence another reason this system doesn’t work,” said Linda Wilson on CollingwoodToday’s Facebook page.
Mark Stewart questioned the integrity of the count, suggesting the outage might also mean there were votes not counted. He suggested the outage was “entirely predictable,” and said “privatizing elections is a terrible idea.”
Yvonne Hamlin, a councillor candidate, posted a statement on her campaign Facebook page, suggesting there were potentially thousands of voters unable to cast their ballots.
“Ontarians right to vote has been stolen by a private company,” said Hamlin.
Others advocated for a return to the “old-fashioned” system, evidently a vote-by-mail paper ballot system.
"The integrity of the system and the ballots that have been cast, there's no concern with the result," said Almas. "The concern was with the overload."
Contracting a private company for election technology is not new.
Collingwood had a vote-by-mail system for the 2010 and 2014 election and used tabulators (ballot-counting machines) by Dominion for the results. In 2010, the voter turn out was a little more than 50 per cent. In 2014 it was 52 per cent. By today at 4:30 p.m. the voter turnout was at 46.8 per cent with 3.5 hours to go.
Almas said the town’s previous experience with Dominion has always been pretty successful.
Other residents were more positive about online voting and the 24-hour extension.
“I’m happy and grateful. I could not get to go through online, would get kicked off. By phone I was repeatedly hung up on!” said Lisa Kaufman on the CollingwoodToday Facebook page.
“2.5 hours later, thank you for respecting my right to vote by extending the timeline,” said Kerri Grummett, also on Facebook.
“Online is a great idea that should help voter turnout. Backup must be in place and unlimited data must be provided,” said Prentice Smith on Facebook.
Almas had another call with Dominion this afternoon, and said she and staff from other municipalities impacted by the outage last night will be looking into the issue further.
Voting continues in Collingwood today. You can still register to vote online until 7 p.m. and you may register at the voter help centre up until 8 p.m. You can vote online or by phone until 8 p.m. and at the voter help centre set up at the Collingwood Public Library.
If you voted yesterday and you aren’t sure your vote went through. You can go to the voting site and enter your voter ID and pin again. If your vote was already recorded, you will get a notice informing you and you won’t be able to fill out another ballot.