Let public vote on council motions, says MacKay
Asks staff to look at using web technology for residents to vote during council meetings
By: Peter Boer
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 06:00 am
Online voting in the next municipal election is likely a no-go in St. Albert, but a local councillor wants to explore using the technology in a different forum – during council meetings.
Coun. Cam MacKay gave a notice of motion at last Monday’s standing committee on finance meeting that he wants administration to explore how it can use Internet technology to allow better participation in council meetings. Specifically, he wants residents to be able to cast votes on motions.
“We’ve had this system for hundreds of years where we pick a few people to make decisions on your behalf, but now that we have the technology available, why shouldn’t people make decisions on matters themselves?” MacKay said.
Provincial legislation – specifically the Municipal Government Act (MGA) – prohibits municipalities in Alberta from allowing something like direct voting, so what MacKay is looking at is more of a real-time opinion poll of voters rather than a sort of binding electronic plebiscite.
“Unless the MGA is changed, it could only serve as a polling tool,” MacKay said. “The amount of moral persuasion that would be on councillors would be very large. You’d have to have a very good reason for voting against the public.”
The idea elicits immediate questions – how would you ensure only St. Albert residents, of majority age, voted? Wouldn’t low participation create skewed pictures of what residents want? What about people who might not have access to a computer or high-speed Internet connection?
MacKay has tackled some of those questions and put forward a few different solutions. He sees offering residents an ID number through their utility bill as a way to ensure St. Albert residents of majority age are voting. He also foresees allowing votes over an Intranet as opposed to the Internet – by using bank machines.
“That really alleviates some of the security concerns,” MacKay said.
Low participation could be a problem, but he points out the city deals with that right now in elections where substantially fewer than 50 per cent of eligible voters bother casting a ballot.
“It’s a good philosophical debate but you can’t force them to be interested,” MacKay said.
While his notice of motion has yet to be formally moved and debated, Mayor Nolan Crouse and Coun. Cathy Heron shared their thoughts on MacKay’s proposal. Both are having difficulty supporting the idea.
“I can’t imagine how, in the middle of a council meeting, you’d take a time-out to see what people have to say,” Crouse said. “Before you cast a vote, you take a look at the emails you got today? I don’t know.”
Heron disagreed with the idea because not everyone has time to watch council meetings.
“I don’t think it’s fair because a lot of people who have an interest don’t tune in every Monday, so it allows a few hundred people to make those decisions,” Heron said.
MacKay sees it as an evolution in democracy, the first in what he said was almost 1,000 years.
“To me it sure would be exciting to see some grassroots democracy in action where the average citizen has a direct say on issues,” MacKay said. “If that doesn’t increase interest in democracy, I don’t know what will.”