Saskatchewan’s chief electoral officer is offering what he calls a vision for future voting options in provincial elections.
Michael Boda said he believes changes need to be made in how Saskatchewan administers its future elections.
“Our last election (held on Oct. 26, 2020) took place in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic,” Boda said in a release Wednesday.
“COVID-19 has shown us that there is an appetite and willingness to change many aspects of our society, including how we vote.”
Boda said his paper, Modernizing Saskatchewan’s Provincial Voting Experience — Voting Services Modernization for Saskatchewan’s 30th General Election, is the first step in modernizing the province’s voting experience.
Jim Farney says what Boda is proposing aren’t changes to the fundamentals of the system.
“It’s not moving to electronic voting; it’s not getting rid of first past the post,” said Farney, a political scientist at the University of Regina.
“The core fundamentals you learn about in civics classes aren’t on the table.”
Boda is proposing changes in three broad categories, including moving from an election day to an election period.
He said when advanced polling was opened to all voters starting with the 2016 provincial election, “advance voting participation skyrocketed.
“This is further proof that voters want to vote when it is convenient for them and not at an assigned date and time,” Boda said in his paper.
A second change Boda proposes is modernizing the election process and administration.
He said this would include the use of e-poll books and ballot tabulators, which would allow faster and more accurate ballot counting.
The third change Boda proposed is broadening access to voting, including vote by mail.
In the last provincial election, 56,547 vote by mail ballots were returned and counted, roughly 52,000 more than in the 2016 election.
While Boda acknowledged the COVID-19 pandemic was a factor in the increase, he said he doesn’t expect vote by mail numbers to fall to pre-COVID numbers.
Boda also wants to move to a vote anywhere process.
He said e-polls and tabulators make it possible for a voter to vote in a location outside their own constituency.
“One of the advantages of introducing technology to the voting process is that it becomes possible to serve voters in a manner far different than what has been seen in the past,” Boda said in his paper.
“I expect that, in 2024, we would implement Vote Anywhere in select locations in certain constituencies to provide a higher level of service to voters while limiting administrative complexity.”
Farney said the proposals are not dramatic as those work within the existing legislative framework to make it easier for voices to be heard at the ballot box.
“If the goal is to have a way of delivering elections that is as flexible as possible, I think that’s a net good for voters,” he said.
“Let’s make it easier for people to cast their ballot, I don’t think anybody’s going to disagree with (that).”
Boda said the ideas in his paper will be expanded on in a report to be published in the spring of 2022.
“I look forward to discussing its contents with key stakeholders and making recommendations to legislators for legal changes that will allow our system to modernize,” he said.
Saskatchewan’s next general election is scheduled, by legislation, for Oct. 28, 2024.