Hamilton City Hall west face Credit: Joey Coleman / The Public Record

Hamiltonians will have the option to vote by mail in 2022 if Council approves changes to Hamilton’s election by-law. The proposal made it through Council’s Governance Committee today in a unanimous vote.

“Most municipalities have set up their vote by mail system so that t required to have the ballot into City Hall by Election Day,” says Hamilton’s new elections manager Aine Leadbetter. “Meaning that any ballots that are received beyond that date would not be included.”

Hamilton’s proposal is the same, requiring residents to mail their ballots at least a week before the election to ensure Canada Post delivery to City Hall on or before Election Day. There will also be a secure election ballot drop box at City Hall for ballots to be dropped.

“We’re not interested in a system that would extend the counting of votes. We want to make sure that the election results are available on election day,” Leadbetter said.

City staff expect up to 10% of votes could be mail-in ballots, which means around 4% of voters making use of the mail-in option. Voter turnout in Hamilton was 38% in 2018.

City Clerk Andrea Holland said adding mail-in ballots to the by-law “also gives me the flexibility to shift if we need to should something happen in during the pandemic.”

Presently, the City Clerk cannot shift to mail-in ballots. In light of the pandemic, this could be an issue if there are any by-elections between now and October 22.

Ward 1 Councillor Maureen Wilson said she supports the initiative and the $125,000 budget citing that “famous saying democracy is expensive, but not as expensive as the alternatives.”

Wilson asked if mail-in balloting will increase turnout.

Citing studies and research, staff say they do not expect this to increase turnout.

Hamilton’s voter “has stagnated under 40% for some time”, Wilson noted. “I don’t think any democracy would claim that to be victorious or healthy.”

Leadbetter says there will be polling stations at both McMaster University and Mohawk College in 2022.

Hamilton was the only municipality in Canada to not place polling stations at post-secondary campuses.

The plan passed the committee unanimously, with Wilson (1), Brad Clark (9), Lloyd Ferguson (12), and Arlene Vanderbeek (13) in favour. Absent were Maria Pearson (10) and Mayor Fred Eisenberger.

It will go to full Council for ratification in August.