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Gym, tan, laundry -- vote?: Ontario asked to consider weekend, holiday elections

Report on June 2018 provincial election makes recommendations aimed at boosting voter turnout
April 23, 2019
The Canadian Press

If Ontario's chief electoral officer has his way, voters could head to the polls on weekends or holidays in future provincial elections.

That's one of the recommendations contained in a new report released this week by Greg Essensa reviewing the most recent Ontario election of June 7, 2018.

With just 57 per cent of eligible voters casting ballots in the election, changing voting day is just one of the suggestions aimed at getting more Ontarians to the polls.

Essensa also recommends doubling the number of days for advance polling. Current legislation, the report points out, calls for five days of advance voting at fixed locations starting on the twelfth day before election day and ending on the eighth day before election day.

"The 2018 general election was the first held under these requirements for advance voting, and the process did not meet public expectations," his report says. Polling conducted on behalf of Elections Ontario shows voters want more options for casting their ballot prior to election day, the report says.

"To remove barriers to voting and put the needs of electors first, the Chief Electoral Officer recommends extending advance voting at non-returning office voting locations to 10 days, as well as more flexibility to rotate voting locations to facilitate the needs and behaviours of electors."

According to the report, 698,609 voters cast their ballots at advance polls, a nearly 23 per cent increase over 2014. A total of 5,806,286 people out of an eligible 10.2 million voted in the 2018 election.

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As for changing election day, Essensa's report says such a move would increase access to schools, which are often used as polling places, for voters while keeping schoolchildren safe.

Essensa also proposes extending the election period from the current 29 days, among the shortest of any province or territory. The federal election period is a minimum of 36 days.

"The Chief Electoral Officer considers a 29-day election calendar to be insufficient to ensure a successful election that serves Ontarians," the report states.

The report also makes several other recommendations aimed at modernizing the election process, from creating a single "address authority" to streamline how voters' addresses are maintained, with Elections Ontario taking on responsibility for municipal voters' lists. As it stands now, Elections Ontario obtains voters' address information from a variety of sources, all of which may have their own style conventions to suit their purposes.

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The report also calls for broader powers to levy penalties over violations of the Elections Act or the Election Finances Act, as well as a set schedule for reviewing and changing the electoral districts and boundaries.