The April 23 civic by-election could have two lasting legacies for local residents.
The first, and the obvious one, is that there will be a new member of Estevan City Council. As stated previously, there are five strong candidates – Lynn Chipley, Trevor Knibbs, Rev. Stewart Miller, Mohammad Waseem and Marge Young – who are vying for the vacant seat on council.
One of those five will be representing citizens and articulating their concerns for the final 2 1/2 years of this term.
The other potentially long-lasting element of this by-election is the use of automated polling – a process that should accelerate Estevan's prolonged vote-counting process.
Remember the 2012 civic election? The final results were released at about 1 a.m. on October 24 – about five hours after polling stations closed. The people who were still awake, awaiting the polling results, fell into several groups: vote counters, City employees, candidates, reporters and political junkies.
If the automated vote tabulation system works, the days of people sitting bleary-eyed at City Hall at 12:30 in the morning, awaiting the results of the election while drinking coffee, should be over. And the days of dedicated community members counting ballots at the final polling station at 12:30 a.m. should also be finished.
A by-election is the perfect opportunity to try out an automated system. For one thing, the technology is being loaned, free of charge, from the City of Regina. Voter turnout won't be as high as a civic election. There will be just one polling station at the Estevan Church of God.
The City is trumpeting Accu Vote as having a 99.9 per cent success rate, so the odds of having a problem appear to be miniscule.
It's also purportedly tamper proof, so we shouldn't have to worry about skewed results or ballot stuffing. We shouldn't have to worry about a repeat of the NDP leadership election of a couple years ago, when the electronic voting was sabotaged, and results were significantly delayed.
The City of Regina vouches for Accu Vote, and it has worked in the Queen City during previous elections.
If the system works in Estevan's by-election, then it would only make sense to make the shift to automated balloting for the next civic election in 2016. It's not going to be cheap, but the benefits outweigh the problems.
We're in the 21st century, and we need our mindsets to reflect changing times. If the technology exists to run an election in an easier and more efficient fashion, and if it's reliable, then use it. If it proves to be inefficient or inaccurate, then hand counting will have to prevail for future elections until a new system is found.
Candidates, election workers and the general public deserve it.