A review of the 2020 Saskatoon civic election from returning officer Scott Bastian outlines several potential changes that can improve the process.
One option is holding the civic election earlier in the year, to avoid inclement weather and overlap of a provincial election.
“Holding municipal elections in Saskatchewan in November is not preferred,” the report reads. “Not only is there potential for poor weather conditions, but the municipal election will continue to overlap with the provincial election. Consideration of a change of season for municipal elections would allow for separation between the provincial and municipal elections and help to alleviate winter weather concerns.”
Last year, the civic election was postponed four days following a massive snow storm.
The report also looks at the impact of having the civic and provincial elections only weeks apart. It says with the provincial election being two weeks before the civic vote, advance polls could have opened up one day before voters cast ballots for premier.
“It was decided to provide a short reprieve between the provincial election date and the city’s first advance poll. In 2024, advance polls for the municipal election can – under current legislation – start one day after the provincial election. This is another reason moving the date of the municipal election is desired.”
With the civic and provincial elections only two weeks apart, the report says the provincial election office in Saskatoon received mail-in ballot applications that were for the municipal election. Meanwhile, the civic election office received mail-in ballot applications for the provincial election.
The report also notes some issues were encountered with the online application form for mail-in ballots. It says the application form did not properly populate information based on the name or address of voters. As a result, a number of applications were rejected.
“A rejected application often resulted in a voter re-applying, in one case, as many as seven times, causing application review time to be significantly increased, belabouring the already manual process.”
The report says there are several ways to improve the application process for mail-in ballots, including using various data attributes to populate information. It also says the process could be better managed with a system dedicated to mail in voting.
The election review outlines several successes, including the establishment of the first-ever drive thru polling station, an increase in advance polls, and a 4,500 per cent increase in mail-in ballot applications.
Lack of voter list can be challenging
The subject of a voters list was also addressed in the review. It says voters lists were prepared for civic elections between 1973 and 1988. In 1991, city council nixed the voters list and it has not been used since.
“The absence of a voters list requires voters to register at the poll by completing a voter registration form and presenting documentation to establish identity and residence. This process requires training election officials to understand the registration form and process and to be familiar with all types of identification that can be produced.”
It says a report from administration in 2016 indicated door-to-door voter enumeration would cost between $380,000 and $500,000.
“To address the issue, recognizing resourcing challenges, the returning officer is exploring the possibility of sharing election-related voter information from provincial and federal sources to create a voters list without enumeration.”