News / Calgary

Councillor encourages city 'shift' thinking after Calgary election gaffe

The City of Calgary is investigating how to modernize its election process after an increased voter turnout challenged the systems in place

Laura Kennedy, Elections Calgary's returning officer, called the 2017 general election a 'mixed success.'

ELIZABETH CAMERON / for Metro

Laura Kennedy, Elections Calgary's returning officer, called the 2017 general election a 'mixed success.'

As the Oct. 16 election rolled out, the city fell victim to their own success: a soaring voter turnout and keen public interest overloaded both polling stations and the online results of the night, leaving many in the dark.

On Monday, Elections Calgary's returning officer Laura Kennedy released an interim report on the 2017 civic election and ideas on what can be implemented by the City of Calgary before citizens go to the polls again in 2021.

Councillors in areas with newer suburban communities also had concerns about the lack of polling stations readily available to serve their constituents. Kennedy said the city's looking into those areas to see if there are community centres or other places Calgarians can head to cast votes.

Coun. Shane Keating said there has to be an election rethink across the board.

"If we have personnel who can think about the scenarios, look for alternatives and then make a decision then we're going in the right direction," said Keating. "We have to get a mentality shift."

In his ward, he said he had constituents reporting long lines and some left because they were waiting too long to cast a vote. Some ran out of councillor ballots.

"If you have a city the size of Calgary, and you're maintaining 50 to 40 per cent of the ballots in a building that's miles away from polling stations ... why would we continue to do those things," said Keating.

When it came to the chaos of Oct. 16, Kennedy blamed the hiccups on a number of things. She said because there were still lines, some an hour long when the polls closed, and because counting doesn't start until the last voting station closes, the manual count was delayed.

So, what's on the table next includes adding an automated system for tallying votes, which means polls could open at 6:30 a.m. in Calgary, like they did in Okotoks, and results could be in citizens' hands within a couple hours of the polls closing.

"The results came in later and later and later," Kennedy said. "You get the manual count, and then you have to go through the paperwork ... when we tried to get results out on election night, of course, that's when our website results failed."

The city had tested the results page load against 2013 numbers, but the number of visitors in 2017 far exceeded expectations, leading to problems with the web page. She said they're working with the IT department to ensure that doesn't happen again.

"We want a much better results generation," Kennedy said. "We don't want to just see what happened in the last election and duplicate it, that's not the methodology any longer, we're going to create a better structure."

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he's glad the city's taking a reasonable look at the election problems.

"I know we can be assured the election was fair, and that it was by and large run well," said Nenshi.

"However there were some glitches in the last three hours of voting, particularly around distribution of ballots, and I'm very confident that they're going to fix that problem."

A report in the third quarter of 2018 will bring forward the cost analysis of undertaking an automated vote counting scheme for the next election, but Kennedy said adding that tech may not end up costing the city more than it currently spends on democracy.

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