Abbotsford residents will have more options in 2022 when it comes time to vote in that year’s municipal election.
Council voted Monday to direct staff to boost the number of advance voting opportunities, increase the number of polling stations, allow for mail-in voting, and scrap the district voting model that required residents to cast a ballot at a single designated location.
The changes follow a story in The News last December that, although turnout was similar to elsewhere, Abbotsford residents had more-limited voting opportunities than people living in most other medium and large British Columbia cities.
That story found that Abbotsford offered the minimum of advance voting locations and that the number of polling stations on election day had tumbled since 2011. Mayor Henry Braun said at the time that those findings seemed to run counter to efforts to encourage more people to vote.
Thirty-five per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot in 2018, roughly in line with past municipal elections and turnout in other B.C. cities.
“I think this is a step in the right direction and we’ll see if it makes any difference,” Braun said Monday.
Monday’s vote also directed staff to increase pre-election public awareness advertising and the hiring of a co-ordinator to administer the election. The changes are expected to cost the city about $100,000.
Staff did not recommend – and council did not vote to implement – making transit free on election day. The topic had been explored by staff, with the cost pegged at about $2,800.
About half of B.C.’s large and medium-sized cities provide free election-day transit, staff had found.
Abandoning the district voting model will mean that residents will be able to vote at any polling station in 2022, rather than a designated site.
The voting division system had been put in place in 2008 after concerns were expressed about the possibility that people could vote at multiple locations. Most other municipalities, though, allow residents to vote at any polling location.
Since 2014, the city has used an electronic list, from which names are struck off throughout the day. Such a method, the city says, eliminates any concern that a “vote anywhere” model will allow people to cast multiple ballots.
Coun. Sandy Blue briefly said she’d be willing to discuss the possibility of having no election signs.
Braun noted that Whistler had seen the last election come and go without signs popping up everywhere. But he said an agreement between all candidates was key to that.
“I think if there’s one candidate that doesn’t agree, there would be charter issues, but that’s something maybe staff can have a look at.”