Penticton city council overrode staff advice this week and voted to have a second polling station for the next municipal election four years from now.
“In order to increase voting, we need to have it more convenient for people. I think that is the most important recommendation and we need to pay for it, whatever it costs,” said Coun. Helena Konanz.
Voters heading to the polls Nov. 14 found themselves waiting in hour long lineups up to cast their vote. Adding a second poll wasn’t on the list of recommendations prepared by Dana Schmidt, the city’s corporate officer and chief returning officer for the election. Schmidt said the lineups could be reduced in 2014 by other means, including encouraging advance poll voting and changing the configuration at the Trade and Convention Centre to accommodate more voters and better address the needs of persons with mobility challenges. She also pointed out that there wasn’t a problem with lineups in 2011, when the city also only had one poll.
“I think we can make a lot of improvements on how we did it this year, it could get the lineup down to very minimal,” said Schmidt. “That eases the parking problem as well, because people aren’t there for the full hour.”
Coun. Tarik Sayeed said it was common sense to have a second poll, adding that he watched people at the polls becoming angry and turning away from the lineups.
Konanz said that Penticton, with 34,000 residents, needed a second polling station, pointing out that Summerland had two for a much smaller population.
“We need to have a second poll. That’s been the biggest thing anyone has talked about,” she said.
Konanz’ motion to add a second poll passed by a narrow 4-3 margin with couns. Judy Sentes, Andre Martin and Max Picton opposed.
Council voted to add a third advance polling day and to raise the number of signatures needed to endorse a candidate from two to 10. A motion to raise the number of signatures to 25, the maximum possible under the B.C. Elections Act, was defeated after Schmidt advised council that candidates for school board would also be affected, as they are subject to the city’s election policy.
“Ten should be sufficient,” said Coun. Campbell Watt. “You are not trying to force people out, you are trying to validate a commitment.”
Schmidt also reported to council on the estimated age breakdown of Penticton voters. Despite a great deal of effort on the part of some to get younger voters out, the under-30 demographic was still less than 10 per cent of eligible voters in that age group. Seniors remained the largest voting block, with a 39 per cent turnout for those over 65 and 29.5 per cent in the 30-65 age group.