St. Albertans may have more places to vote in the next municipal election after council approved a bylaw amendment on Dec. 5. allowing for additional polling stations in voting subdivisions.
The amendment stems from city staff hearing in 2021, and after previous elections, that residents found wait times at polling stations to be a considerable issue, according to a recent report to council.
“While 2021 was an anomaly because the election took place during [the COVID-19 Pandemic] — and therefore required robust COVID protocols to be maintained, which added to the wait times — this is the same feedback that administration has historically received after general elections,” Janice Vollrath, the city's Freedom of Information and Privacy and legislative projects coordinator, wrote to council.
City staff has recommended to council that an amendment to the Municipal Elections Bylaw to allow the city's returning officer to decide if certain neighbourhoods would benefit from having multiple places to vote, with reducing wait times the main objective.
“The [amendment] may be effective in decreasing voting time and may be effective in mitigating any risk to the city's reputation.”
Vollrath also wrote that the amendment allows for flexibility as having multiple voting stations in a neighbourhood won't be required, but it would be an option. In previous municipal elections there have been just 10 polling stations throughout the city, with eligible voters being assigned a certain station depending on where they live.
The potential location of a new voting station, if added, would be determined sometime in early 2025 based on the number of residents in a neighbourhood that voted in 2021; data “regarding growth areas in the city since the last election”; and results from next year's municipal census.
In 2021, according to the provincial government's records, St. Albert had 54,220 eligible voters, however the voter turnout was just 32.8 per cent.
Vollrath's report states that every additional voting station would cost the city about $10,000 for supplies, election staff, and any applicable rental costs.
As well, Vollrath wrote that the city's election reserve currently has a balance of about $800,000, and $60,000 is added to the reserve each year.
“The cost of the 2021 election was $335,000,” Vollrath wrote. “Currently, after factoring in 5 per cent inflation from 2021-2025, administration is projecting the cost of the 2025 election at $400,000 to $450,000.”
The amendment passed unanimously.