Thursday, June 25, 2009

If you can mark an X, you may soon have nowhere to mark it!

The City hasn’t even had time yet to count all that extra tax revenue from the recent 3.8 percent tax hike and already they’ve come up with some new ideas on how to spend it.

In one of the more interesting of trial balloons floated in a town full of them and at a rather curious time (the week before the property tax bills are due), Prince Rupert City council voted Monday night to explore further the prospect of introducing voting machines to our civic duties every three years.

Apparently the lengthy process involved last November in counting all those paper ballots ("we were here until midnight!") has moved some members of council to action, seeking out to replace the X marks the vote concept with the more unfamiliar “American” style voting machine.

The sudden fascination with the latest in electoral technology does make one wonder if perhaps council is not addressing our priorities in the proper order. For a town that continually seems to be under the gun financially and insists on raising taxes each year as though it’s an expected part of the municipal compact, the idea of spending additional money on such an idea seems rather ludicrous.

If one was to survey Podunkians as to their concerns these days about the current state of the city whether it is financial, social or criminal, we suspect that the call and clamour for voting machines would be fairly low, low down the list. Especially when you consider the rather chequered reputation of the technology (see Gore v Bush in Florida for further historic details)

Even beyond the concept that there really must be better things to concern themselves with, one has to wonder why a city that is suffering a decline in population feels that the machines are a much needed addition to our municipal infrastructure.

For the sake of an election every three years, one imagines we can find better things to spend our tax dollars on than a machine that may cut down the counting time by a couple of hours.

More importantly, the actual cost of using the voting machines will actually result in an increased expense for the city, not something that they should be considering during these rather troublesome economic times for Prince Rupert and its citizens.

The last few years have seen some rather strange ideas come out of council chambers on Third Avenue, issues that have not only had locals shaking their heads, but occasionally shaking their fists.
Whether it was the concept of free recreation passes for civic workers, fancy banners for downtown “districts” or outdoor exercise equipment for a city lodged in a rain forest with monsoon like rains and with a wee bit of vandalism, it's decisions like the latest one that occasionally gives the locals get the chance to roll their eyes in amazement.

Now we suspect that the voting machines will be added to the list of things that make residents wonder aloud as to what's in the water at city hall.
Maybe council can try their the future is here agenda again, when our much discussed boom times arrive and we as a community are flush with cash for such folly.
For now though, hopefully when the issue next comes up for discussion on July 13th, Councillors Thorkelson and Kinney who voted against the idea on Monday will be able to sway some of their fellow councillors back onto the theme of common sense.
Council votes on voting machines
By Monica Lamb-Yorski
The Daily News
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Pages one and three

To go for automated voting machines or not, that was one of the questions council members wrangled over at Monday evening's regular council meeting.

Under Bylaw No. 3285, 2009, Chief Financial Officer Dan Rodin recommended council give three readings to the City switching from hiring ballot counters to purchasing or leasing automated ballot counting machines.

Rodin told council after the municipal election he surveyed all the candidates and they were concerned about the time it took to count the ballots.

"We were here until midnight," Rodin said.

Automated vote counting machines would speed up the counting process and the City is considering purchasing two of them.

The city of Prince George used the counting machines after the last municipal election and their final tally was completed by about 9:30 p.m., Rodin noted.

Ballot counting machines cost around $8,000 each or can be rented for just under $5,000.

Rodin suggested it would make more sense to purchase the machines rather than lease them.

In addition, there is a $3,500 cost for ballot counting equipment for each election or referendum.

The cost for the 2008 municipal election in Prince Rupert was $4,845 for ballots and hiring people as counters.

Councillor Joy Thorkelson said she would prefer the money be spent on employing people.

If the machines were purchased, she added, the city would be left around $9,000 in the hole.

"It's a change in technology that will make the elections more efficient," responded Rodin. "It's like the argument of going toward computers."

Councillor Anna Ashley wondered if the city could look at purchasing one and leasing another and Rodin said that could be a possibility.

When it came to the final vote, Thorkelson and Councillor Nelson Kinney were opposed while Ashley and Councillors Gina Garon and Sheila Gordon-Payne voted in favour .

The issue of automated voting machines will be presented again for a second and third reading at the next regular council meeting on July 13

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