Guelph council set to ratify online voting in next city election

At a committee of the whole meeting on May 7, councillors voted 10-3 in support of a motion for the city to provide online voting in the 2026 municipal election.  (City of Guelph - image credit)
At a committee of the whole meeting on May 7, councillors voted 10-3 in support of a motion for the city to provide online voting in the 2026 municipal election. (City of Guelph - image credit)

Guelph councillors are set consider whether residents will be allowed to vote online during the next city election in 2026.

The topic is set to go before councillors at Tuesday's council meeting. A number of people are also signed up to speak to it.

At a committee of the whole meeting on May 7, councillors voted 10-3 in support of a motion for the city to provide for online voting. That decision is up for ratification at Tuesday's meeting.

Coun. Erin Caton, who moved the motion, wants council to direct the city clerk's office to offer internet voting as an alternative voting method for the 2026 municipal and school board elections.

"As a disabled person who has complicated access needs, I know full well what it's like to not be able to participate in important decisions due to organizers not considering my needs," Caton said at the May 7 meeting.

"It's our job to ensure everyone has proper tools for an independent, secure vote."

Coun. Erin Caton
Coun. Erin Caton

Coun. Erin Caton, who moved the motion, wants council to direct the city clerk's office to offer internet voting as an alternative voting method for the 2026 municipal and school board elections. (CBC)

According to Caton, "the ACC [accessibility advisory committee] who we appointed to tell us if we're meeting the access needs for as many people as we can, they're telling us that the staff recommended options are not enough."

School trustee 'a little bit upset'

Upper Grand District School Board trustee Luke Weiler, at a board of trustees meeting on May 14, expressed disappointment that the board was not notified about the planned move to online voting before the motion was passed by city council.

"We received outreach after the committee of the whole had already made a decision before it goes to council for review and ratification by the same people who sit on the committee of the whole," Weiler said.

"From my perspective, this feels a little bit like almost an afterthought. I'm a little bit upset that as a fairly important stakeholder affected by this decision, we're being consulted, if you can call it that, at the last second with very limited opportunities for engagement."

Weiler is concerned that online voting could potentially fall victim to service interruptions that could impact public trust in the process and the integrity of the election.

"The biggest problem is that there's very limited verifiability with regard to the vote count and audits. There's no external way to verify whether or not the results correctly reflect what the majority of votes were cast, if there's any trust issues around the election," he said.

"If anyone wants to raise issues around security, there is no paper ballot to verify the results and there cannot be a recount, which is in my opinion an extremely serious problem that has never been solved with online voting."

A spokesperson for Wellington Catholic District School Board said trustees had the opportunity to review the report prepared by City of Guelph staff.

The board appreciated the opportunity to review the comprehensive report and suggested action, Alison Lupal wrote in an email to CBC News.

"The board of trustees was pleased to see the consideration to voters who may require alternative methods and various accessibility measures. The Wellington Catholic District School Board of Trustees fully supports the report and recommendations proposed by staff," Lupal said.

If approved at Tuesday's meeting, this wouldn't be the first time Guelph has offered online voting. The city allowed ballots to be cast online in 2014 and saw a 44.97 per cent voter turnout that year, compared to 33.9 per cent in 2010 and 37.16 per cent in 2018 when there was no internet voting.

In 2021, Guelph city council opted not to permit online voting in 2022 over concerns about security.

Instead, Guelph councillors voted in favour of sending a letter to the provincial government to advocate for Ontario-wide certification standards when it comes to online voting systems "that can be adopted for future elections where online voting methods are implemented."