Chief Returning Officer Dana Schmidt said there’s room for improvement over how the voting went for the municipal election Saturday.
After long lines at the polls all day and a large turnout at the advance polls earlier this month, many Penticton voters were surprised to find that rather than a big increase in voters, the final count was lower than in 2011.
Even Schmidt was surprised by the final tally, which showed 8,424 votes cast out of a possible 26,806 voters, or only 31.4 per cent. In 2011, Penticton saw a 33.5 per cent turnout, with 8586 out of 25,632 possible voters participating.
“At the time, we believed that the long lines were attributed to an increase in voters,” said Schmidt. “What has been determined since is that we had an increase in new resident electors and a bit of a bottleneck at the entrance.”
New voters are good news, but registering each of them took longer than the standard process. On Nov. 15, there were 1,135 new registrations, according to Schmidt, along with 321 new registrations during the advance polls.
“The lines were undeniably longer than anticipated,” said Schmidt.
When doors to the polling station at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre closed at 8 p.m., there was still a long lineup of voters to process, which took an extra 25 minutes to process, contributing to the delay in tabulating the results as did the number of mail-in ballots processed after the polls closed rather than earlier in the evening.
“We 134 envelopes to open and put into the vote tabulating unit,” said Schmidt, explaining that normally, one of the machines would be taken out of service to handle that work.
Some of the recommendations for addressing the problem include better promotion of early registration, more election officials and better organization of the polling station itself.
A second polling station should also be considered, Schmidt said, though there are costs associated with that.
Coun. Judy Sentes suggested the process could be streamlined with less people running for office. She plans to introduce a motion changing the nomination process to require 25 supporters rather than the current two.
“Perhaps that was not enough,” said Sentes, explaining she felt this would make candidates more aware of the time and other commitments required. “This is not a cakewalk. You really need to be cognizant of what you are coming into.”
One thing that won’t be happening, Schmidt said, is a recount of the votes.
“I am comfortable with the accuracy of the results and will not be conducting an informal recount,” she said.
That didn’t sit well with Kevin Proteau, who has been campaigning recently to either have the electronic vote tabulating machines removed or a manual vote count done in addition.
Proteau now says a manual count should be done because people are concerned about contrast between the long lineups and the low count of voters.
“There has been a lot of controversy in regards to how many attended,” said Proteau. “They are actually saying less voted in these elections than the last one, which is not what we saw.”
Schmidt said legislation leaves the decision to do a recount to the discretion of the chief election officer..
“If council directs me to do something else, then that is what I will do,” said Schmidt.
Proteau also claimed there had been glitches with the vote counting machines, as another factor in his campaign for a recount.
“There is a lot of discrepancies here which will be coming out. A lot of people are saying the numbers aren’t adding up here,” he said.
Schmidt explained that there hadn’t been a glitch with the machine, but rather a dead power outlet during the Cherry Lane advance poll, causing a delay before the machine could be used.
“We were concerned and didn’t use it for the first little bit until we plugged it into a proper power source. It would have been less than half an hour,” said Schmidt.
Outgoing Mayor Garry Litke said he hadn’t heard any complaints from the scrutineers at the polls, telling council the majority of people were satisfied with the results.
“I am sorry that you are not satisfied and there are members of this community that are not satisfied but it is time to move on, we have a new council, an excellent group of individuals,” said Litke. “Democracy is a decision made by the majority of people, not tyranny of a minority.”